According to SANBS (SA National Blood Services) only around 1% of South Africans are active blood donors, and following recent media reports the nation’s blood supply touches on dangerously low levels versus the demand. This race to save lives is two-fold. Blood is also alive with living cells, and the processing thereof must take place within 24 hours of donation.  First Line Processing in Pretoria, the blood processing centre for an area stretching from Rustenburg, across Pretoria to Limpopo, are handling double the number of units they used to a decade ago, and demand is increasing yearly.  This centre is only one of the recipients of the twelve Hettich Roto Silenta centrifuges supplied by Labotec for SANBS blood centres. This centrifuge at SANBS is an essential component for blood processing and platelet production, and performs a vital role in the journey of a unit of blood from donor to patient.

The decision to use Hettich centrifuges in First Line Processing is due to their ruggedness and reliability.  Currently around 600 blood units are processed and componented here every day.  The Hettich Roto Silenta’s are the models they use for processing large capacities, and have historically proved to be reliable, fast and efficient workhorses.

According the First Line Processing Supervisor, “when whole blood units are received they are first weighed and then centrifuged to separate the blood unit into red cells, plasma (clear straw coloured fluid) and then lastly, making up the smallest volume, the buffy coat, which contains most of the white blood cells and platelets. The Head of Processing for the Northern Zone added, “In the early years of blood transfusion the whole blood was issued, which was not necessarily exactly what the patient required. Now, the blood is split into its components, so a patient receives just what he needs. Red cells are immediately batched to the Inventory department for distribution to various blood banks. The plasma part can be used for clotting factors”.

He continued, “Plasma is blast frozen to a core temperature ofminus 30°C within 45 minutes in order to preserve the clotting factors. Timing is essential for plasma as it needs to be frozen between 6-18 hours after donation. The plasma frozen within 6 hours is fractionated into Bioplasma which is used by patients with bleeding disorders i.e. patients with a Factor VIII or Factor IX deficiency. The plasma frozen between 6-18 hours are for patient use. After the 18 hours, plasma is sent for fractionation to produce immunoglobulins (e.g. rabies vaccine) and Albumen which is used for burn victims.

The last component, the buffy coat, is sent to the Specialised Processing laboratory for the preparation of pooled platelets. Here the Specialised Supervisor explains, “To produce one pooled platelet, five buffy coats from random donors with the same blood group must be pooled together. A platelet additive solution is added to the pool and it is then centrifuged. The platelet rich plasma is used for patients with low platelet counts, or patients with cancer”.

Every unit of blood saves up to three lives if separated into its components of red blood cells, plasma and platelets. This blood separation journey ensures the most efficient and productive delivery of this vital life giving force.

CAPTION: The team at SANBAS First Line in Pretoria with a Hettich large volume centrifuge used for separating blood into its components. Through separation, each unit is capable of saving three lives.