Donated blood is used to treat patients directly (e.g. through a blood transfusion or plasma transfusion) or to make medicines. Donated blood can also be used by scientists for research and development. The exact rules about what your donated blood can be used for vary, so you need to check applicable law and the rules of the receiving organisation if you want to know in detail what your donated blood or plasma may be used for.
Despite our many advancements in the medical field, blood can still not be manufactured, so all the blood needed – for transfusions in hospitals, to manufacture life-saving medicines, to carry out important research and so on – must come from donors. Humans can not receive blood from animals, we can only receive it from each other.
Whole blood vs. blood components
Whole blood consists of a number of components; chiefly plasma, red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells. Donated blood can be used in its intact form, but it is more common for blood banks to separate the blood into its main components. This way, the blood can be used in a more efficient manner, since not all health conditions need or benefit from a transfusion of whole blood. It is very possible that your donated blood will be used to treat several patients, as they each need different parts of the blood.
Donated blood can be used for transfusions
Donated blood can be used for transfusions of either whole blood or one or more blood components (e.g. plasma). Blood transfusions are given through an intravenous line and therefore enters the bloodstream directly.
A few examples of reasons why someone may need a transfusion are trauma, burns, surgery, childbirth complications, anaemia, and blood disorders. Blood transfusions can also be carried out to increase the quality of life for dying patients.
Donated blood can be used to manufacture medicines
Pharmaceutical companies rely on blood to make certain medicines and treatments. Here are a few examples of medicines and treatments that can be made using donated blood:
- Intravenous Immunoglobulin Therapy (IVIg)
- Clotting factor medications for patients with bleeding disorders
- Alpha-1 Antitrypsin to treat patients with the hereditary disease genetic emphysema
- Albumin for trauma, burn and surgical patientsDonated blood can be used for research, development and quality assurance
Blood, and blood components, are needed for various types of research and development, including medical research and related fields. In this way, some of the donated blood is used to benefit patients through the development of treatments, therapies, tests, and similar. Continuous testing (quality assurance) of diagnostic tests, equipment, processes etcetera can also require donated blood or blood components.
Donated blood can be used for teaching and training
Blood and blood components are required for the training of certain professionals, including medical professionals, laboratory staff and research scientists. Some of the donated blood is used for this purpose.
Facts about blood in the United States
(Source: American Red Cross Blood Services)
- In the United States, less than 40% of the population is eligible to donate blood or platelets.
- Each year, an estimated 6.8 million people donate blood in the U.S. Approximately 13.6 million units of whole blood and red blood cells are collected from them.
- Type O negative red blood cells can be given to patients of all blood types. Even though 45% of the people in the U.S. have Group O blood, only 7% of the population is O negative. Type O negative blood is always in great demand since it can be given to all patients.
- Type AB plasma can be transfused to patients of all blood types and is therefore in great demand. Regrettably, only 4% of the U.S. population have type AB blood.
- In an average year, approximately 1,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease in the U.S. A person with sickle cell disease may require continuous blood transfusions throughout their life.