Other Uses of Plasma: Organ Transplants

13 January, 2021

In our new series Other Uses of Plasma, we will cover other domains, besides life-saving protein therapies, that rely on plasma. In the previous blog of the series, we covered the immense importance of plasma in treating Lyme disease. In this blog, we will look at its importance in treating complications that arise after organ transplants.  

Organ transplants are one of humankind's greatest achievements ever, let alone in medical science. Transplants represent the pinnacle of extraordinary intellect, skill, dexterity, and other capacities that defy nature. 

However, this was not always the case. 

Organ transplants were largely unsuccessful and even fatal until we made giant advancements in finding nearly perfect host-donor 'matches'. 

The technique, though, to manage the complications arising from transplants has largely been the same: Therapeutic Plasma Exchange (TPE).  

Organ transplants are extremely complicated and beyond the scope of this article. Hence, we will keep this simple. 

Basically, your plasma — the pale, mostly water component of your blood — contains proteins that are vital to the functioning of your immune system — the bodily system that fights diseases. 

One of these vital proteins is the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) — a protein which helps the immune system differentiate between foreign and its own cells. 

For the sake of simplicity, we can say that HLA-matching translates to donor-host matching. Otherwise, the host's immune system identifies the donor's cells (tissues that make up the organ) as foreign. As a consequence, it attacks and destroys them. 

Such complications cause the host to 'reject' the donor's organ, making the transplant a failure. The process which underlies the rejection is known as Antibody-Mediated Rejection (AMR).  

Now, like plasma therapy, Therapeutic Plasma Exchange (TPE) is not standardized, but it has been the go-to for treating AMR.  

There are several ways to treat AMR, but TPE is preferred because it attacks the problem at its source. In essence, instead of dealing with particular proteins causing the complications, TPE aims to remove and replace the host's plasma itself.  

The plasma is collected via plasmapheresis — the process of collecting blood, separating the plasma from it, and returning the remaining components. This is followed by heavy doses of new, healthy immunoglobulins i.e antibodies.  

The entire process is carried out in cycles that span days or even months.  

Of course, advancements have led to better, more time-efficient alternatives, but the alternatives are also more expensive. For the time being, TPE gets the job done. Very well, indeed.  

Plasma to the rescue, yet again.  

Learn more about plasma at www.iplasma.life 

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