Did you know that at least 200 different cell types comprise the human body? Each type of cell is specialized to perform a certain function, and together they ensure that your body functions at its full capacity.
While each cell type is crucial to sustaining life, one type in particular is essential to medical research: leukocytes, more commonly known as white blood cells. But what are leukocytes? Why should you donate them, and how does medical science use leukocytes to understand cancer and develop new methods to treat devastating diseases?
Below, we give you the layperson’s guide to understanding how these cells function in your body and why donating them can have a lasting impact in the medical field.
What Are Leukocytes?
Leukocytes are white blood cells, and, in case you’re wondering, they aren’t actually white — they lack color entirely, and scientists stain them with dye to properly view them under a microscope. White blood cells only constitute about 1% of your total blood volume, but the work they perform is crucial.
Leukocytes are your blood’s primary defense against fighting infection. They’re produced by your bone marrow and cruise through your bloodstream to target and dismantle foreign cells. Because they typically survive no more than three days, your bone marrow has to produce them nonstop — which is one reason bone marrow donations are so crucial.
A problem with your leukocytes spells a problem with your immune system. Many diseases affect your bone marrow and lower your blood cell count, rendering you more susceptible to disease, which is one reason people with cancer, AIDS, tuberculosis, or lupus, along with those undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, should stay away from sick friends.
Is Leukocyte Donation Different From Whole-Blood Donation?
When you donate blood, you’re usually donating red and white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Organizations like the American Red Cross take these whole-blood donations for transfusions.
However, leukocyte donation is usually a slower process than whole-blood donation. As with plasma donation, leukocyte donation pumps the blood out of your body, cycles it to remove just one component (in this case, the white blood cells), and cycles the rest of the blood’s components back into your body. Since leukocytes are just 1% of your blood, separating out white blood cells takes longer than cycling out plasma or platelets.
Depending on the study you’re donating to, you could undergo a mobilized white blood cell donation. In this process, you’ll be injected with a mobilizing agent that stimulates your bone marrow to produce more stem cells, which can then be used in a variety of research programs.
What Do Researchers Do With Donated Leukocytes?
Since leukocytes are a key component of your immune system, researchers use leukocytes to study how the immune system works and how to restore immune function in patients with diseases like leukemia and HIV/AIDS.
The most important leukocyte-related research, though, comes from mobilized white blood cell donations. Unlike typical white blood cells, stem cells can reproduce and then specialize into different types of cells. They can serve as a nearly endless resource for scientists experimenting with cells to understand different diseases — and one donation can have a huge impact, producing as many as 200 million blood stem cells for researchers to use.
How Can I Find a Study to Donate To?
Most clinical studies compensate participants, so donating your white blood cells, mobilized or not, can both benefit you financially and contribute to significant scientific gains.
Interested in donating your leukocytes? Key Biologics (A Cellero Company) provides blood materials to medical research teams across the United States and offers compensation for qualified donors. Find out if you’re eligible to donate, then get in touch with us to see how your leukocytes can contribute to key medical studies.