The Blood Matters Blog ·

What Is Therapeutic Apheresis?

Through the use of a sophisticated machine designed to identify and extract individual components of a person's blood, our medical professionals are able to treat patients battling leukemia, sickle cell disease and many other serious conditions.


All of us at Our Blood Institute tend to focus much of our time and energy on the lifesaving act of blood donation, and for good reason: someone in the U.S. requires a blood transfusion every two seconds.

If you follow us on social media, read our blog, or have been to one of our blood drives, then you know how important that mission is to our health systems. What you may not be aware of, however, is that we are committed to helping our community in some lesser-known but similarly vital ways.

One such way? Apheresis therapy.

Apheresis, Explained

The word “apheresis” comes from the Greek word “aphairesis,” which translates to “a taking away.” Today, the term refers to a medical procedure that involves the separation, extraction and collection of specific components of a person’s blood. Put simply, an apparatus called an apheresis machine is able to identify the four major components of our blood – red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma – and extract any of them as needed.

These machines can be used for blood donation – at OBI, we refer to this as a Power Red donation – but can also provide patient-specific therapy.

We need your Power Red donation! Schedule your appointment today.

Types of Apheresis Therapies

  • Leukapheresis

    Leukapheresis involves the separation and removal of white blood cells from the blood.

    Who it can help: Patients with an excessive or abnormal number of white blood cells. This may include people with acute leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) or acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), all of which may cause hyperleukocytosis.

  • Photopheresis

    Photopheresis combines a photochemical reaction using ultraviolet light with apheresis to treat certain conditions, most commonly involving the immune system.

    Who it can help: People with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, graft-versus-host disease and organ transplant rejection. The benefit of photopheresis for people with autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease is currently being studied.

  • Plasma exchange

    Plasma exchange is the removal, treatment and reinfusion of plasma within a person’s blood in order to remove harmful plasma-based substances. In some cases, the patient’s plasma is replaced with healthy donor plasma or a plasma substitute. Also called plasmapheresis.

    Who it can help: Patients with certain neurological autoimmune disorders like chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), myasthenia gravis, certain hematological disorders such as Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP) or organ transplant rejection reversal.

  • Plateletpheresis

    Plateletpheresis is the select removal of platelets from a patient’s blood while returning the other blood components back to the patient.

    Who it can help: People who possess an excessive number of platelets or a condition that requires a reduction in platelet levels to prevent complications. People with essential thrombocytosis.

  • Red Blood Cell Exchange

    Red Blood Cell Exchange is the select removal of red blood cells paired with the infusion of healthy red blood cells. Also called erythrocytapheresis.

    Who it can help: Patients with sickle cell disease or severe malaria.

Our Blood Institute’s Connection

Each year, OBI nurses conduct roughly 1,500 such therapies in hospitals across Oklahoma. OBI is the largest provider of therapeutic apheresis in the state and actively services 18 hospitals in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas.

OBI Medical Director Dr. Walter Linz says these therapies aren’t just effective – depending on the condition, they can be fast-acting, too.

“This technology for some conditions can be effective immediately as the therapy is a mechanical separation of pathological antibodies, defective red blood cells or a specified toxin such as spider bite venom,” Linz says.

Many of these therapies wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of healthy donors, so if you have the ability to give, consider scheduling your donation today.