Expanding the shelf-life of plasma

Technical file

Type of innovation: Procedure

Scope: Bioengineering

Innovation leader: Grifols i Lucas, Víctor Grifols i Lucas, Josep Antoni

Year: 1943

Period: 1909-1971

Geographical scope: Spain

Economic impact: High

Level of innovation: Adaptive

Patent: Yes

Interdisciplinary connections: -

From 1935, brothers Josep Antoni and Víctor Grifols i Lucas pursued research into the newly discovered process of lyophilization and its application to human blood plasma. This offered a means of extracting water from a material without affecting its basic structure or composition.

Essentially a sophisticated type of freeze-drying, lyophilization had first been used to conserve food for long periods of time. The Grifols i Lucas brothers' work built on earlier research by Flosdorf, who demonstrated that the technique could also be used on biomedical material without changing its fundamental properties.

“Lyophilization has its origins as an industrial-scale process in the mid-1930s and it was the Grifols family who introduced it to Spain.”

Exploring new techniques to improve processes

This procedure is now widely used, but it has its origins as an industrial-scale process in the mid-1930s, with a great deal of progress made as a result of the Second World War. The procedure was in use in the UK at the time, but it was the Grifols family who introduced lyophilization to Spain.

During the ten-year life of the Spanish patent, the next challenge was to build a freeze-dryer that would be up to the task of lyophilization, with the equipment and materials available. Víctor Grifols i Lucas led the efforts to innovate.

Freeze drying process
An innovative technique for conserving plasma


1935 Flosdorf presents the first work in which the method of lyophilization in different biological substances is established.
1936 Elliott proposes the idea of using plasma as a substitute for whole blood (in this case, liquid-not lyophilized-plasma).
1938 First successful tests of reinfusion of lyophilized plasma in animals and humans (Mahoney and Thompson et al.).
1940 Strumia presents his method to lyophilize plasma. Large-scale production begins by the United States and Great Britain to meet demand during World War Two.
1941 The Swedish Defense Department also works on dried plasma, in this case, as a spray.
1945-1953 The massive spread of hepatitis means that the use of lyophilized plasma is reduced, and is increasingly replaced by albumin.
1968 The method is practically abandoned in the United States.
1990 The German Red Cross begins to use lyophilized plasma again, this time with the appropriate safety measures. From then until the present day, it has been used by the Israeli army, French special forces and in South Africa.


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  • Mahoney, E.B. (1938). A study of experimental and clinical shock with special reference to its treatment by the intravenous injection of preserved plasma. Annals of Surgery, 108, 178-193.
  • Thompson, W.D. & Ravdin, I.S. & Rhoads, J.E., & Frank, I.L. (1938). Use of lyophile plasma in correction of hypoproteinemia and prevention of wound disruption. The Archives of Surgery, 36, 509-518.
  • Strumia, M.M., & Wagner, J.A., & Monaghan, J.F. (1940). The intravenous use of serum and plasma, fresh and preserved. Annals of Surgery, 111(4), 623-629.
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