Rise in genetic antibody disorders that need plasma donors  


The father of a two-year-old boy who can’t make antibodies to fight infections is supporting a new NHS appeal for plasma donors.

Curtis Apthorp began donating plasma after his son Sebastian was diagnosed with a primary immunodeficiency (PID). Sebastian’s illness means he cannot make antibodies to fight off germs and viruses.

Sebastian would not survive without a fortnightly infusion of immunoglobulin, an antibody medicine made from donor plasma.

In the last five years, there has been a 31% increase in the number of people with PIDs who need immunoglobulin to stay alive, due to better diagnosis and the treatment enabling people live for longer.

The NHS relies on imported immunoglobulin but global supplies are under long standing pressure due to rising demand around the world. The pressure has increased due to coronavirus affecting donation in the US.

NHS Blood and Transplant was this year asked to start taking plasma donations to bolster long term NHS supplies but the number of donors is far behind target. The 11 new plasma donor centres are only around 30% full each day, with around 350 donation appointments going empty each day. (3)

Numbers are low because plasma donation for medicine is new to most people. NHSBT research shows only two in ten people know about it. NHSBT needs to recruit another 30,000 active plasma donors before the end of March, to join the 10,000 people already donating, and help make long term supplies more secure. Plasma takes at least six months to make into immunoglobulin.

To drive more people to register as donors, NHSBT is from today [Monday, October 4 ] launching a new campaign of paid adverts that will begin on social media, then in the coming weeks and months roll out across street signs, commercial radio networks such as Bauer and Global, and on BT Sport.  They will highlight the plasma is ‘the medicine in you’.

Around 17,000 people receive immunoglobulins each year, for PIDs and other disorders. Many are people who have been shielding during the pandemic due to their weak immune systems.

The 11 new plasma donor centres are in Barnsley, Birmingham, Bolton, Bristol, Chelmsford, Croydon, Manchester, Reading, Stockton, Stratford, and Twickenham.

Plasma donation is similar to blood donation. In plasma donation, some of your blood is gradually run through a machine which separates out some of your plasma. Your red blood cells are returned to you, so you can carry on with your day as normal.

Plasma makes up 55% of blood and carries cells and proteins including antibodies around the body.

· To help save lives by donating plasma, call 0300 123 23 23, search ‘donate plasma’ or visit www.blood.co.uk/plasma

Curtis Apthorp started donating plasma because his son Sebastian needs ongoing immunoglobulin treatment for a very rare illness.

Sebastian, aged 2, has a primary immunodeficiency, which stops him making antibodies to fight infections.

Sebastian was hospitalised by sepsis three times before he was one year old. He is treated by Great Ormond Street Hospital. He receives infusions of immunoglobulin at home every two weeks, via an automatic pump.

Dad Curtis, from Maldon in Essex, a canine hydroptherapist, lives with wife Hannah. He donates at Chelmsford Plasma Donor Centre.

He said: “The doctors found Sebastian almost didn’t have any of his own antibodies at all.

“They started him on immunoglobulin almost immediately and it has been like liquid gold for him.  It has kept him safe for over a year now. It’s life changing for him and us.  He was very vulnerable to almost everything. Since he has started on the immunoglobulin, he has been well. Without immunoglobulin, he would have a very isolated life.

“When I found out immunoglobulin came from plasma I asked if I could donate, but at that time they were not taking donations here, so I am glad you can donate in England now.

“I donate at Chelmsford and it’s absolutely fine, it was actually really pleasant. You don’t feel it. I hope it gives other people a better life, children and adults. There’s a medicine in you which can be used to make powerful, lifesaving medicines.”

Dr James Griffin, a consultant haematologist and also Clinical Director for Therapeutics at NHSBT, said: ”Some people born without the ability to generate the antibodies needed to fight off infection.  We are now able to identify more children and start lifesaving therapy with intravenous immunoglobulin and keep them alive.  We need more donors to be able to make more of this life saving treatment to meet increasing need created by more patients being treated for longer.”