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In two weeks, the first vein will be tapped at a new medical facility on the West End.

In exchange for plasma, the supplier will receive $20 from Community Bio-Resources, a company owned by Baxter Healthcare Corp.

CBR, 2300 Grant Road, is taking out radio and print ads, informing local residents that the plasma is used to create lifesaving medicines. “Help save a life… And each month you can earn up to $160,” the ads state.

The local blood bank, United Blood Services, welcomes any new business to the local economy, but hopes blood donors are not confused by CBR’s lifesaving message.

“That’s not necessarily a local life at a local hospital from local blood products,” said Judi Brinton, executive director of UBS Billings. “There is confusion.”

UBS has issued emergency appeals for blood in recent weeks because of shortages.

In its mission to collect the cells needed to make high-tech medicines, CBR does not try to lure donors from nonprofit blood banks, said Todd Plath, the company’s regional manager. The pool of potential donors is vast and largely untapped – more than half the population is capable of donating, less than 5 percent do, he said.

“We see it every time we open. The local blood center is understandably concerned about the supply,” Plath said. “They discover within a few weeks of us opening here that the blood supply does not change.”

That was not the case when CBR opened a plasma collection center in Fargo, N.D., in 1991, said Jan Falk, community relations director of UBS Fargo. Blood donations by college students plummeted. Although this portion of society does not have the highest donation rates, UBS Fargo spent five years recruiting new donors to make up the shortfall, Falk said.

“It made things challenging,” she said.

Blood drives at colleges in the Fargo area typically resulted in about 4,500 pints of blood each year. After CBR arrived, donations dropped to about 150 pints, Falk said.

“We’ve had to rethink our recruiting and come up with ideas on how to replace those units,” she said. “We are hoping in the long run, when the students graduate and settle into a community, they’ll come back to donating blood.”

Falk said she doesn’t look down on people who sell their plasma – especially with High Plains economies performing poorly.

Mixing blood and money is a controversial topic. U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules require that blood’s origin must be clearly labeled as coming from either a volunteer or a paid donor. According to FDA regulations, payment does not include time off from work.

Some experts believe that paying for blood increases the chances of a donor lying about his or her physical condition, said an FDA spokeswoman from the agency’s headquarters in Rockville, Md.

“There is a concern about a possible impact on blood safety,” she said. “There may be some lessening of safety when there are donor incentives.”

CBR officials say the plasma centers use the same testing and screening techniques as a blood bank in which potential donors are asked about travel history and lifestyle. Blood tests and a brief physical exam are also performed.

“We apply as rigorous screening standards as whole blood does,” Plath said.

CBR is already signing up potential plasma donors and will begin conducting physicals Aug. 7. Healthy individuals between 18 and 59 are generally eligible to supply plasma, the component that comprises about 57 percent of a person’s blood. The first plasma will be drawn Aug. 13.

The process takes a little more than an hour, depending on the health and weight of the donor. A needle is inserted into an arm vein. Blood flows into a machine where plasma is separated from red and white blood cells. Only the plasma is taken from the blood, the rest of the cells are returned to the body.

Donors read magazines, play video games or listen to music while plasma is removed. Movies were once shown at the centers, but this created potential backlogs, especially when donors wanted to stick around to watch the end of the film, said Robert Steinbauer, manager of Billings’ CBR. Sleeping is not allowed. Child care is provided for parents. People may safely donate up to twice a week, Steinbauer said.

Before being tapped, the potential blood suppliers are also educated on how their plasma is used, Plath said. Various proteins within the plasma are separated and used to make therapies to treat a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including cancer, hemophilia, severe burns and AIDs.

Demand for these treatments is rising as new uses for proteins from plasma are discovered. To meet this demand, CBR has plasma collection facilities in 21 cities, primarily in college towns in the Midwest. A CBR collection center in Missoula opened two weeks ago, Plath said.

With no plasma collection facility in the area and two colleges in town, Billings was ideal for a CBR center. “It’s a great donor demographic here,” Plath said.

As the donor base is built, CBR plans to have 48 “donor stations” – reclined chairs and plasma separation machines – in Billings. Currently, there are 18 employees. Eventually, 41 will work for CBR in Billings, and the facility will have an annual payroll of more than $1 million, Plath said.

The nonprofit UBS facility in Billings has five donor stations, but also conducts blood drives in local businesses and surrounding communities. The blood bank has a goal of collecting about 500 donations a week.

The busiest CBR center has between 1,500 and 1,700 plasma donations each week, Steinbauer said.

“We’d like to be the top,” Steinbauer said.

James Hagengruber can be reached at 657-1232 or at jhagengruber@billingsgazette.com

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