By Marino Bozic, Research and Clinical Services Manager
You’ve likely heard us say at SBC that when you donate blood, you’re helping the patients of today and tomorrow. But did you know the most likely way you’re helping these patients of tomorrow is with a small layer of white cells — only 30 mL per donation — called a buffy coat?
Buffy coats are concentrated white blood cells, which are not typically transfusable to patients. They are created by spinning whole blood donations in a CompoMat machine, which uses a centrifuge to naturally separate out blood components by density. The thin layer of white cells, making up about 1% of the donation, is transferred into a new bag that contains a mix of lymphocytes, monocytes and granulocytes (plus some platelets). This buffy coat product, which ends up a dark red color, is then ready to be packaged for customers.
These buffy coats are invaluable to researchers because white cells are the key to the body’s immune response and, to help find cures to things like cancer, researchers need to be able to see what makes the body “fight back,” as well as how the immune system may respond to new drugs and therapies. They can also be used for things like priming laboratory machines, allergy research, testing new medical devices like cholesterol meters, diabetes studies and so much more.
Though our Research and Clinical Services team offers a number of white cell products, buffy coats are the most popular because they are some of the easiest to obtain in larger numbers, being that we can create one buffy coat from each whole blood donation. In the past five years, SBC has provided more than 23,000 buffy coats to researchers. And, of our current over 200 active research customers, more than half have ordered buffy coats at least once in the past year, with some clients ordering them monthly, weekly and even daily.
There is one trick to fulfilling buffy coat requests, though. While filling a generic buffy coat order is fairly simple and can happen rather quickly, often researchers will order buffy coats as “special requests,” meaning they want buffy coats from donors who match specific criteria. So, for example, if a researcher needs buffy coats for a study on how a heart medication impacts individuals over age 50, they would need the white cells for their study to be from patients over age 50 as well. Special requests can include things like age, gender, race, blood type and CMV status. And while all identifying protected health information (PHI), such as your name and birthday, is removed from the information provided to the researcher, it is our Research and Clinical Services team’s responsibility to find donors who match the requested descriptions and ensure that our laboratory creates a buffy coat from each identified whole blood unit when it comes in. Though this is not always an easy task, especially when donations are low and there are less donations to choose from, it’s an essential part of making sure that the researchers’ studies are conducted accurately and with the best possible intel for how a future patient may respond.
So, while this may sound very clinical — and, in fact, it is in nature — the bottom line with both a white blood donation and any resulting research products is that your donations have more impact than you could ever image. It could be that, through your most recent donation, your red blood cells helped save the life of a current cancer patient who, because of your selflessness, is able to follow through with treatment, recover from cancer and help spread hope to others; and it could be, too, that the white cells you gave in that same donation were used to test a new type of chemotherapy that, once approved, is able to save the lives of many more cancer patients now and into the future. With that big picture in mind, we at SBC want to thank you for donating with us and, in doing so, investing in the health and safety of your community now and for many years to come.