Blog of Bloodworks Northwest

Serum for Research: What is serum donation?

One third of all blood donations go to patients fighting cancer. For many of these individuals, their blood counts drop as a result of treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

What if we could treat cancer without the side effects of chemicals and radiation? And what if a critical part of this treatment was in your blood?

Bloodworks has partnered with major local research organizations innovating the complex mechanisms needed to answer these questions, and they can’t do it without donated serum.

“Bloodworks has always been at the center of our regional healthcare system – and now we are ready to participate more in biotechnology and pharmaceutical research and that means cancer research, that means cells and tissues,” said Josh Woodburn, manager of Bloodworks’ Advanced Cell Processing Laboratory.

“Donors can come in and donate serum now, and we then provide that to organizations who are turning it into something that will go back and help our community in the long run.”

What is serum?

Serum contains all the nutrient-rich electrolytes, trace elements, proteins, and fats found in plasma except for the clotting proteins.

Why is serum important?

“Pooled human serum has some ingredients that can’t be synthesized or replicated,” Josh explained. “It’s totally unique to this field and is instrumental for cell research.”

Take cancer treatment, for example.

Surgery is the first choice to remove small, malignant tumors that have not spread, but cancer cells can quickly travel to other parts of the body, especially cancers of the blood and lymph nodes.

Non-surgical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation kill off the bad cells that surgery can’t reach but take a hard toll on the body’s healthy cells.

What if doctors could utilize the body’s own immunity to hunt and destroy hard-to-reach cancers as a more effective alternative treatment?

Our immune system utilizes at least two lines of defense: T-cells and B-cells. T-cells recognize foreign proteins in our bodies that shouldn’t be there, and run reconnaissance, gathering samples of these foreign compounds to present to other immune cells in the body.

The T-cells then either instruct B-cells to create antibodies, proteins that counteract specific threats, against tumors or present the material to other T-cells to form attack cells.

If you’ve been following our COVID-19 convalescent plasma work, you know that antibodies in the plasma of patients recovered from COVID-19 can be used in the treatment of patients currently fighting the novel coronavirus.

We can leverage a similar pathway to fight cancer. And since the circulatory and lymph systems are the source of the body’s immune cells, blood is a perfect delivery mechanism for these novel treatments.

However, it takes an army of these cells to fight cancer, more than can be created from a patients’ own cells alone. Fortunately, scientists can grow more in the lab.

This is where serum comes in.

Serum is a key ingredient used to support the growth of immune cells outside of the human body, which paves the way for future medical breakthroughs.

With donated serum, scientists can growth immune cells to achieve a dose (number of cells) that might effectively target a cancer, or an infection.

How is serum collected?

A serum donation is very similar to a regular whole blood donation. The only differences are that donors must be on a modified diet (i.e. a clear liquid diet) for 12 hour prior to their appointment.

Interested in learning more? Visit the Bloodworks Serum Page

December 30, 2020 3:13PM

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