Understanding Leukoreduction

Car accident victims escaping with injury at all is rare, most are likely need to be transfused with blood products. When someone is severely anemic, doctors eventually give red blood cell transfusions. When patients with blood disorders, are always given platelet transfusion. Patients with severe liver disease may need to be transfused with plasma as part of their recovery.

Ever wondered why transfusions are only for whole blood, red blood cells, platelets, plasma transfusions and none are prescribed for white blood cell transfusion?

Because my dear readers, there is no need for it. In fact, white blood cells are removed from whole blood products before transfusion.

Isn’t that part of the blood that kills viruses and bacteria? This may surprise some of you but this is actually a common process called leukoreduction. Leuko what? The name may sound complicated and too technical but it’s actually easy to remember. Leuko which is from leukocytes is another way of calling white blood cells. The word reduction means the state of being reducing- to the point of elimination in this case.

Leukoreduction is when the white blood cells are removed from whole blood. Easy, isn’t it? But why do we need to take away white blood cells from whole blood before transfusion? Isn’t it an equally important component of blood just like red blood cell, platelet and plasma?

The answers to these questions when you read below.

What is Leukoreduction?
Leukoreduction is the process used to filter and remove white blood cells from whole blood before transfusion. White blood cells are removed because they offer no benefit to the recipient but instead carry bacteria and viruses to the patient.

Patients may experience adverse effects when they receive blood that has not been leukoreduced. Among these are fever with chills, alloimmunization, and the transmission of viruses including cytomegalovirus (CMV), a member of the herpesvirus family which can be harmful for low-birth weight infants and to transplant patients.

Benefits of the Procedure
Before we dig a little deeper, let’s first review the respective functions of the different components of blood in the body.

The red blood cells transport oxygen from the lungs to all of the tissues of the body; the plasma serves as the transport system that delivers various materials between the cells; the platelets help clot the blood in the case of an injury; while the white blood cells protect the body from infectious agents.

They all have wonderful functions, right? But let’s say sorry to white blood cells because it has to be removed from its brothers before a transfusion.

White blood cells may hide infectious disease and some pathogens will be more concentrated in WBCs that the rest of the blood components. There’s also a theory that the donor white blood cells may suppress the recipient’s immune system by interacting with it.

What is Leukoreduction

Benefits of Leukoreduction

In a study made by Dr. Neil Blumberg of the University of Rochester, New York, he said that leukoreduction was significantly useful in reducing infections and other morbidities after surgery, with savings of about $1700 – $2000 per unit of blood transfused. In contrast, transfusion of a patient with non-leukoreduced blood resulted in an increase in overall spending of about $4000 – $4500 per patient.

Scientific journal “Transfusion” published an April 2007 meta-analysis by Dr. Blumberg and others that covered 3093 patients who received leukoreduced blood. The meta-analysis revealed that use of leukoreduced blood decreased the frequency of post-transfusion infection by 50%. Moreover, Blumberg and others reported in a previous study that a shift to universal leukoreduction at Strong Memorial Hospital lessened post-transfusion infection by 33-45%.

About 60-70% of blood derivatives used for transfusions are now leukoreduced. Canada and Europe are moving towards using leukoreduced blood as routine practice.

Leukoreduction Infographic

No one ever would want to be in the situation where blood transfusion are needed, just in case there is, I hope that this helped demystified what leukoreduction is.


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