While joining the master’s course in India, many people asked me, “What is your specialty?” When I said transfusion medicine, I could see the vacant stare in their eyes.
It is that sector which deals with various transfusion practices and immuno-hematological aspects. We collect blood from voluntary donors, process it into different components like red blood cells, platelets and plasma, and reach them to all the needy patients in the surgery, dialysis and emergency departments.
Not everyone knows how the blood products are stored, how long they are stored and how they are transfused. Hence, such specialists are needed to see to it that the transfusion is safe. It is not a big deal to give a simple prick and collect 350 ml of blood, but what is difficult is to process it into various components and store them in their respective storage conditions. From one pack of blood (in common language), we can save three lives, and since only blood can replace blood, blood transfusion is the ultimate saviour in many critical conditions.
Moreover, we look for reactions that may happen during blood transfusion, and try to learn the cause behind them.
There is a huge sector besides transfusion services, and is called ‘stem cell transplant and transfusion support’. As weighty as it sounds, stem cell transplant is the ultimate therapy in this new era of medicine.
Stem cells are special types of cells designed to evolve into any type of cells in the body when in need. So in diseases like cancer or blood disorders, we take out the stem cells from the donor and transfuse them in the patient, where they start to produce new blood cells. We can compare this to farming, where we remove the diseased plant and sow new seeds to grow disease-free plants.
As my professor says, all modern medicines intend to just halt the disease process or cure the symptoms temporarily, but this therapy helps to clear up the disease from the root.
Not to forget, there is yet another aspect to our field called “plasmapheresis”, a procedure that our Prime Minister recently went through abroad. Blood is ideally composed of 70% plasma or semi-transparent fluid. Whenever our body senses an attack by a foreign agent, be it an infection or some donor transplanted cells or even the foetus that a mother carries, our body makes a protein called “antibodies”, which then reacts with the foreign agent.
So plasmapheresis is a simple procedure to remove plasma containing antibodies from the patient.