Extracting plasma while giving cells and platelets back to the donor

Technical file

Innovation leader: Josep Antoni Grífols i Lucas

Year: 1951

Period: Postwar period (1940-1959)

Type of innovation: Technical procedure

Scope: Hemotherapy

Patent: Yes

Geographical reach: International

Economic impact:  1-High

Level of innovation:  1-Disruptive

Interdisciplinary connections: -

Related innovations: Plasmapheresis in situ

In the early 1950s, Dr. Josep Antoni Grífols i Lucas perfected and systematized the technique of plasmapheresis. This technique 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 the blood plasma. It's a highly significant innovation, because a donor can regenerate plasma far quicker than they can whole blood. Therefore, they can make much more frequent donations: in fact, one plasma donation is possible per week compared to a full blood donation once every 12 weeks. As a result, the collection of far greater quantities of raw plasma is 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 technique to small groups of human subjects for the first time, with Frank Co Tui's work in 1944 being particularly significant.

Josep Antoni Grífols i Lucas carried out the largest study to date of its effects in the medium term in 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.


A legacy of life

Dr. Grífols' studies confirmed that the technique 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 until the present day.



Plasmapheresis represented the genesis of plasma fractionation industry



  • Abel, J.J., et. al. (1914). Plasma removal with return of corpuscles (plasmapheresis). Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 5, 625-641.
  • Co Tui, F.C., et. al. (1944). Red cell reinfusion and the frequency of plasma donation. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 124, 331-336.
  • Grífols Lucas, J.A. (1950-1951). Apuntes de laboratorio. Manuscrito no publicado.
  • Grífols Lucas, J.A. (1952). Use of Plasmapheresis in Blood Donors. British Medical Journal, 1(4763), 854.
  • Grífols Lucas, J.A. (1952). Los Genotipos Rh de otros 350 dadores de sangre españoles. Medicina Clínica, 18(4), 271- 274.
  • Grífols Lucas, J.A. (1952). Primeras aplicaciones de la plasmaféresis en el hombre. Medicina Clínica, 18(4), 301-302.
  • Grífols Lucas, J.A. (1955). Further experience with plasmapheresis. Manuscrido no publicado de la comunicación al Congreso de la Sociedad Europea de Hematología.
  • Simson, L.R., et. al. (1966). The long-term effects of repeated plasmapheresis. The American Journal of Clinical Pathology, 45(4), 367-372.
  • Cohen, M.A., i Oberman, H.A. (1970). Safety and Long-term Effects of Plasmapheresis. Transfusion, 10(2), 58-66.
  • Grífols-Lucas, V. (2009). Amb un suro i un cordill. Vivències d'un empresari de postguerra. Barcelona: Grífols Group, 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.