The Chemistry of Plasmapheresis


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Plasmapheresis is the name for a grouping of procedures in which blood plasma is removed from the body and separated into parts either to treat the blood cells or to prepare them for donation. I chose to research plasmapheresis because my mom is a nurse who oversees patients undergoing plasmapheresis at the hospital. Plasmapheresis does not affect my life currently, nor will it (most likely) in the future, as it is an uncommon procedure.   

Composition of ...

  • Blood plasma

  • Calcium

  • Sodium citrate: Na3C6H5O7

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

  • Plasma is the liquid component of the blood. It is tasked with carrying nutrients to all the parts of the body and with removing the waste produced throughout the body. The protein fibrinogen contained in plasma is necessary for blood clotting, as it makes a weave over the scab that platelets have formed. One of the main purposes of plasmapheresis is to separate plasma from the rest of the blood to be donated.

  • Sodium citrate (Na3C6H5O7)  is required for plasmapheresis to prevent blood from clotting whilst in the plasmapheresis machine. Calcium is needed for blood to clot, and if sodium citrate is infused with blood during the plasmapheresis process, it will bind to the calcium and prevent blood from clotting. This does cause minor health concern, as in most plasmapheresis processes, at least some parts of the blood are put back into the patient, the same parts that essentially cannot clot anymore. This is solved by giving the patient a calcium supplement to protect against low calcium levels.

Chemistry's Role

Plasmapheresis is an almost completely physical process, however chemistry is still involved. Blood of course is chemically created within one’s own body (or from another person’s in the case of blood donation). Also the binding of sodium citrate to calcium in the blood is the most important chemical piece of the plasmapheresis puzzle.

Background Research

Plasmapheresis is used to treat many diseases including: Goodpasture’s syndrome, Guillain–Barré syndrome, lupus, and myasthenia gravis. One of the side effects of donating blood through plasmapheresis can be calcium deficiency, as Sodium Citrate is bound to calcium in the blood to prevent the blood from clotting whilst in the machine. Patients are given calcium supplements in order to prevent calcium levels from going too low.   


About the Author

John Holbrook is a junior at Billings Senior High School. He enjoys procrastinating on projects until the last possible moment. He plans on attending Harvard University and to achieve an Associate’s degree in music theory. He can sometimes can get good grades, and is a 2 time AA State Football Championship viewer.