Apheresis is a procedure in which blood is separated into its basic components (red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma), and one or more of these is selectively removed from the blood. It is applied therapeutically for the purpose of curing, alleviating, or treating a disease or its symptoms. The procedure can take several forms, though it is usually accomplished by removing venous whole blood from the body, separating the blood into cellular and noncellular (plasma) parts or “fractions,” and returning the cellular fraction to the patient. Just as in kidney dialysis, blood flows from a patient to a machine where it is treated and then returned to the patient by way of an extracorporeal (i.e., outside the body) blood tubing set.
Apheresis typically has been used in diseases involving excessive levels of three main types of substances found in blood components: plasma protein, antibodies, and immune complexes. Physicians reason that if they can properly identify and remove these problem substances, the disease process may be controlled and the patient’s clinical condition should improve.
Selected Diseases Treated With Apheresis
Clearly, a variety of diseases-often rare-have been treated by apheresis in circumstances where conventional therapy has not been beneficial.