Extracting plasma while giving cells and platelets back to the donor

Technical file

Type of innovation: Procedure

Scope: Hemotherapy

Innovation leader: Grifols i Lucas, Josep Antoni

Year: 1951

Period: 1909-1971

Geographical scope: International

Economic impact: High

Level of innovation: Disruptive

Patent: No

Interdisciplinary connections: -

In the early 1950s, Dr. Josep Antoni Grifols i Lucas perfected and systematized the technique of plasmapheresis. This procedure was a revolutionary innovation for Grifols and paved the way for an entire industry of blood plasma-based medicines, which the company now dominates.

Plasmapheresis consists of reintroducing blood cells and platelets back into the donor's body immediately after a donation of whole blood, retaining only the blood plasma. The development of this procedure was a highly significant innovation, because donors can regenerate plasma far quicker than they can whole blood. Therefore, they can make much more frequent donations: in fact, one plasma donation per week is possible compared to a full blood donation possible every 12 weeks. This meant that collection of far greater quantities of raw plasma was suddenly possible.

Origins of an idea

The technique was originally proposed by John Jacob Abel in 1914, who showed, together with his team, that large amounts of plasma could be extracted periodically from dogs as long as the red blood cells were reinfused. They named the process plasmapheresis.

During the Second World War, some researchers applied the procedure to small groups of human subjects for the first time, with Frank Co Tui's work in 1944 being particularly significant.

Josep Antoni Grifols i Lucas carried out the largest study to date on its effects over the medium term on the human body. With more than 350 donors in the study, he rigorously and systematically established the safety of plasmapheresis in humans for the first time.

“The development of plasmapheresis was a highly significant innovation, because donors can regenerate plasma far quicker than they can whole blood. This meant the collection of far greater quantities of raw plasma was suddenly possible.”

A legacy of life

Dr. Grifols' studies confirmed that the procedure could be used to gather vastly more plasma than had been possible before, without any real risk to donors. He presented the conclusions of his study at the IV International Congress of Transfusion Physicians in Lisbon, 1951, and a year later they were published in the British Medical Journal, offering the scientific community a technique that continues to be the most widespread method for obtaining plasma for the industrial fractionation process to the present day.


  • Abel, J.J., & Rowntree, L.G., & Turner, B.B. (1914). Plasma removal with return of corpuscles (plasmapheresis). Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 5, 625-641.
  • Co Tui, & Bartter, F.C., & Wright, A.M., & Holt, R.D. (1944). Red cell reinfusion and the frequency of plasma donation. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 124, 331-336.
  • Grifols-Lucas, J.A. (1950-1951). Apuntes de laboratorio. Unpublished manuscript. Barcelona: Hemobanco de Laboratorios Grifols, S.A.
  • Adams, W.S., Blahd, W.H., & Bassett, S.H. (1952). A method of Human Plasmapheresis. Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine, 80, 317-377.
  • Grifols-Lucas, J.A. (1952). Use of Plasmapheresis in Blood Donors. British Medical Journal, 1(4763), 854.
  • Grifols-Lucas, J.A. (1952). Los Genotipos Rh de otros 350 dadores de sangre españoles. Medicina Clínica, 18(4), 271-274.
  • Grifols-Lucas, J.A. (1952). Primeras aplicaciones de la plasmaféresis en el hombre. Medicina Clínica, 18(4), 301-302.
  • Grifols-Lucas, J.A. (1955). Further experience with plasmapheresis. Unpublished manuscript congress paper of the European Society of Hemathology. Barcelona: Hemobanco de Laboratorios Grifols, S.A.
  • Simson, L.R., & Lien, D.M., & Warner, C.L., & Oberman, H.A. (1966). The long-term effects of repeated plasmapheresis. The American Journal of Clinical Pathology, 45(4), 367-372.
  • Cohen, M.A., & Oberman, H.A. (1970). Safety and Long-term Effects of Plasmapheresis. Transfusion, 10(2), 58-66.
  • Grifols-Lucas, V. (2009). Amb un suro i un cordill. Vivències d'un empresari de postguerra. Barcelona: Grupo Grifols, S.A.
  • Avellà, R., & Miquel, B. (Eds.). (2015). Cuando un sueño se cumple. Crónica ilustrada de 75 años de Grifols. Barcelona: Grupo Grifols, S.A.