Apheresis and Photopheresis

Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, features the region’s only pediatric apheresis and photopheresis program.

Apheresis and photopheresis are used to treat leukemia and sickle cell disease. Apheresis and photopheresis also fight graft-versus-host disease after bone marrow transplants and rejection after organ transplants.

Medical apheresis is the removal of specific blood components from a donor (patient) by a special machine.

The type of apheresis depends on which component needs to be removed:

  • Red blood cell exchange is an effective therapy for sickle cell disease in which damaged red cells are removed and replaced with healthy red blood cells.
  • White cell depletion uses apheresis to remove white blood cells when levels are dangerously high.
  • Red blood cell depletion removes excess red blood cells using apheresis.
  • With photopheresis, white blood cells are treated with an ultraviolet light-activated photoactive drug before being returned to the patient’s blood. This is used to treat graft-versus-host disease, organ rejection in solid organ transplants, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Plasmapheresis replaces blood plasma with plasma from a healthy donor. It is used to treat conditions such as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura or organ rejection after a transplant.
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