3 Ways Leukapheresis Is Used

Posted on: 22 April 2020

Leukapheresis is the process of separating the leukocytes from the rest of the blood. Once the leukocytes are separated, they are used in various ways to help patients, often when other treatment options are inadequate or have failed.


Leukapheresis can be used as a temporary management strategy in certain types of cancer like chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). In CLL, the body produces an increased number of abnormal lymphocytes. Most cases of CLL advance slowly, only requiring treatment when symptoms are severe or the cancer is more advanced. Some people with advanced or aggressive CLL may have leukapheresis to help remove these excess and abnormal cells from circulating blood. In other situations, cancer patients may have low white blood cells (WBCs) from their cancer treatment. Low WBCs places patients at a significantly higher risk of infection. Some patients with low WBCs may have a transfusion of leukocytes to bring up their number of WBCs quickly.

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's immune system starts to attack healthy tissues. This abnormal inflammatory process can lead to different types of damage, depending on the organ systems that are under attack. Typically, autoimmune diseases are treated with medications, such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologics. In rare cases, leukapheresis might be used to help remove inflammatory cells from the blood that are responsible for attacking organs. Much like its use in people with certain cancers, the benefits of leukapheresis are temporary. Eventually, the body will begin to make inflammatory cells again.


Patients with an active, systemic infection are typically treated with strong antibiotics in hopes of quickly gaining control of the infection before the organs begin to shut down. Sometimes people with infections do not have a healthy immune system that is capable of helping to fight off the infection. These patients may have low neutrophils, which are an instrumental part of the immune system used to fight infection. When this occurs, the patient will need extra help to fight the infection. Leukapheresis can be used by taking WBCs from a healthy donor and giving them to a patient who is trying to fight an infection. This treatment option, when combined with other treatments, may give the patient a better chance at successfully overcoming their systemic infection.

When other treatment options have not produced adequate results, leukapheresis may be the right choice. Leukapheresis has many uses, whether it is used to remove "bad" cells that are contributing to chronic cancer or unchecked inflammation or to give "good" cells to people who need them.