Plasma donor center seeks donors, including those recovered from COVID-19
As COVID-19 cases rise in Arkansas and across the country, plasma donation has gotten increased attention as a method to treat patients with the disease. Biomat USA – formerly known as Biotest Plasma Center – has collected plasma at its Conway location on 2235 Dave Ward Drive since March 2015. Grifols, the parent company of Biomat USA, is leading the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With more than 150 plasma donor centers across the nation, including the 16,000-square-foot collection facility in Conway, Grifols has begun identifying, screening, and selecting volunteer donors who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate their plasma. The company then uses the plasma to produce a hyperimmune globulin that could potentially treat the disease.
Although COVID-19 has put plasma donation in the spotlight, there are many conditions that plasma-derived medicines help treat. Plasma is the clear, liquid portion of blood containing proteins and antibodies. Grifols extracts these proteins and antibodies to manufacture into life-saving medicines that treat rare and chronic conditions.
If a person is lacking a particular component of plasma – whether it’s a protein, an antibody, or a combination of these – Grifols isolates those components from the plasma collected from healthy plasma donors. These products may treat people with Alpha-1, which is a genetic form of COPD; people with deficiencies in their immune systems; people with GBS/CIDP, which can look like acute paralysis; and other conditions.
For many patients, the treatment with plasma medicines is their only treatment option. Sara Balsam, corporate affairs representative at Grifols, said it takes anywhere from 130 to 1,300 donations to treat one patient just for one year. The good news is that plasma can be collected more frequently than whole blood.
“Because our bodies replenish plasma quickly, donors can give plasma more frequently than those giving whole blood – up to two times in a seven-day period, with at least day in between,” Balsam said.
Biomat USA Plasma Center is located at 2235 Dave Ward Drive in Conway.
The process to donate plasma differs a bit from whole blood donation. A specialized medical device separates the donor’s plasma from their blood through a safe, sterile, automated process called plasmapheresis. During this process, a venipuncture is performed on the donor’s arm and whole blood is drawn, which is then separated into plasma and red blood cells. The red blood cells are returned to the donor through the same site in their arm.
Because it takes more time and requires a commitment from the plasma donors, Biomat USA and other plasma donation centers offer donor fees as a small thank-you.
To donate plasma, a donor must weigh more than 110 pounds and be between the ages of 18 and 69. Donors also must have a valid proof of identification, a social security number, and a valid, permanent address. All donors are held to strict safety and quality standards that are established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, European health authorities, and a series of industry standards. These include the testing of every single donation.
“We take the selection of our donors very seriously because we want to make sure that the donor is healthy to donate and that the donor’s plasma is safe to be made into our medicines,” Balsam said.
Balsam added that only plasma from repeat donors is used to make Grifols’ medicines.
“We want donors to go through the entire screening and donation process at least twice before their plasma can be used. This is an extra safety step we take that also shows us that the individual is committed to being a regular plasma donor.”
At every single donation, donors must complete a comprehensive health history questionnaire and have their vital signs checked. First-time donors also receive a physical examination by one of Biomat USA’s trained medical staff. The physical exam ensures that plasma donation is safe – both for the plasma donor and for the patient who receives the plasma-derived medicine.
Balsam said there are many reasons one may consider donating plasma.
“For some, it’s because plasma donation is one of the easiest ways to give back,” Balsam said. “Others like having an hour to themselves to relax. Some people like to earn a little bit of money on the side while knowing they are helping to save a life. You only need one reason to donate plasma.”
The COVID-19 pandemic provides another reason to donate plasma. Those who have recovered from COVID-19 and want to donate plasma must have a diagnosis made with a test (nasal swab or blood) and complete resolution of COVID-19 symptoms at least 28 days prior to donation, or they must have complete resolution of symptoms at least 14 days prior to donation along with a negative molecular test for COVID-19. Interested recovered donors must also meet Biomat USA’s routine eligibility criteria for normal source plasma donation.