Leukapheresis is the process by which white blood cells (WBCs) are removed from the body while red blood cells (RBCs), platelets, and plasma are returned back to the body using a sterile, disposable collection system and apheresis machine. The word “leukapheresis” can be separated to its latin roots to create a simpler picture: Leuk (the latin root meaning white) and aphaeresis (the latin root meaning take away). Leukopheresis, another common spelling, can still be broken down to its Greek root leuko (as in leukocyte), meaning white blood cell. The terms, however, are synonymous and can be used interchangeably when referencing this laboratory technique.
The leukapheresis procedure takes between 1-3 hours. Depending on venous access, a sterilized venous collection tube is placed in each arm of the donor, one for removing whole blood from the body and the other for returning the remaining components (RBCs, platelets, and plasma) back to the body. The whole blood enters an apheresis machine that separates the white blood cells from the rest of the whole blood component and stores the desired target cells (WBC or specific WBC component) in a disposable collection vessel. The body’s natural WBCs, or leukocyte count, is then regenerated in the blood within a few hours of depletion.
This “taking away” of the WBC components of your blood is commonly used to generate healthy white blood cells to use for research and test kits. It can also be used to reduce peripheral WBC count for treating symptoms of abnormal metabolic syndromes such as hyperleukocytosis, a condition where a patient has too many white blood cells (with latin roots hyper meaning above or excessive, leuko meaning white, cyt meaning cells, and osis meaning abnormal condition of). Management of hyperleukocytosis with the leukapheresis procedure, for example, can help correct this metabolic abnormality by reducing the viscosity, or thickness, of the peripheral WBC count.
Leukapheresis is also quite often seen in cancer research involving circulating tumor cells or CTCs. Since leukapheresis can remove the peripheral WBCs in the circulatory system and specifically separate cells with centrifugation and filtration, researchers are able to isolate mononuclear cells or harmful tumor cells for further molecular analysis.
This guide will help provide a basic understanding of leukapheresis, its technical procedure, and its application in the field of research. The author states no conflict of interest in the compilation of this resource. This guidebook should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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