White Blood Cell Donation Enables Medical Research

Support patients waiting for a cure by donating for research.


White blood cells are some of the most powerful tools in a cancer researcher’s laboratory.

Scientists have watched white blood cells in lab experiments detect invaders to healthy cells. Researchers have also trained white blood cells to attack cancer tumor cells, now the basis for an important cancer treatment known as CAR-T therapy. In another case, they’ve also figured out how to manipulate a cancer patient’s white blood cells to help that patient fight prostate cancers that resisted other treatments.

None of those breakthroughs could have happened without white blood cells in laboratories – and white blood cells would not be in in laboratories without donors who contribute their white blood cells to research.

“They really are the starter cells for so many things,” said Dr. Dan Waxman, vice president and senior medical director of Versiti and Beacon Biologics, a nonprofit in Austin that is dedicated to supporting medical research in the fight against cancer and other rare diseases through the collection of white blood cells.

Simplifying white blood cell research

White blood cells are crucial to early-stage medical research, the kind of science that lays the groundwork for future treatments, due to their high concentration of different types of immune cells. This is especially important in cancer research, but also applies to conditions like HIV and other rare diseases.

Researchers often require white cells as a starting material to enable their research and advance new therapy options through the various clinical trial stages, in order to eventually bring new treatments to patients.

In the past, Waxman said, researchers used stem cells collected through bone marrow. The process to collect those stem cells was invasive – “they literally pulled bone marrow from a person’s hip bones,” he said. “But then, we realized we could collect them through someone’s blood.”

How does white blood cell donation work?

White blood cells are collected using a process called leukapheresis, which separates the white cells from the rest of your blood. In a process similar to blood donation, donors are connected to a machine that safely collects and filters blood, separating the white cells and returning the other parts of the blood back to your body. The process is overseen by trained medical staff and takes around 4 hours to complete. Donors are compensated for their time.

Like whole blood donations, white blood cells regenerate naturally within the body, and so white blood cell donors can donate as frequently as every eight weeks and are called to make a donation when their blood characteristics meet the need of an ongoing research study.

“It’s a unique opportunity for people to become more closely involved in new and exciting medical research,” Waxman said. Beacon Biologics’ mission is to bridge the gap between research and patient care, making it possible for individuals to receive the newest, most effective treatments possible.

“Having a strong, committed healthy donor bank is invaluable for collecting white blood cells for research,” Waxman said. “Research projects require different types of donors with varying cell characteristics to support the wide range of ongoing studies.”

Visit the Beacon Biologics web site to learn more and to register to donate white blood cells.