Government through the Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC) has acquired a new blood separation machine for better blood management and research.
Used to perform a procedure known as apheresis, the automated machine allows for only specific blood components to be removed or replaced efficiently, without any significant blood loss.
According to the JCRC executive director Dr Cissy Kityo Mutuluuza, apheresis is a medical procedure of removing a specific component of blood while the other components are infused back to the body using a machine.
At the launch of the apheresis service on Thursday, Dr Kityo said the machine allows use of blood for various clinical applications, including disease management and research.
Dr Francis Ssali also based at JCRC said the apheresis machine uses blood to perform various functions including plasma exchange, red blood exchange, platelet donation, bone marrow stem and white blood cell collection.
He said that the machine will improve sickle cell anemia management since it can separate a patient’s defective red blood cells from rest of blood components.
“Blood is made of four components; white blood cells, red blood cells, and plasma but this machine can allow a donor to donate one component, like platelets,” he said.
He also revealed that the machine can draw more quantities of platelets at once as opposed to drawing all components of blood at the same time from many donors.
According to Dr Henry Ddungu, a haematologist at Uganda Cancer Institute, the apheresis machine is vital in treating and management various blood cancers like Leukemia.
He also said apheresis is an established method of harvesting the stem cells normally used in a bone transplant surgery.
Dr Ssali said the machine is used to treat autoimmune diseases like ascending paralysis (Guallian-Barre Syndrome) by removing aggressive antibodies.
Dr Kityo said patients will no longer need to travel abroad to access the service.
She explained that the machine will also be used in HIV/AIDS research but doesn’t treat or cure the disease.
“This procedure can also be used to collect these specific white blood cells for research purposes, without the requirement for a research participant to donate large volumes of blood,” she said
However, she noted that the apheresis remains expensive due to the many number of sundries used.
Dr Peter Kibet, a haematologist at Kenya National Hospital in Nairobi said the availability of apheresis services has been a “game-changer” in treatment of conditions like sickle cell anemia.
“This technology is more superior because it can not only separate blood but manage diseases,” he added.
Founded in 1990, JCRC is a collaborative effort by three Ugandan ministries of Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Defence to address the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS and related infections.