The lesser known uses of donated blood and plasma

Of course it’s common knowledge that donated blood is given to patients who desperately need it. But blood donations are not solely used for transfusions. Sometimes a donation is 'Not for transfusion': NFT, as we call it.

In an indirect way, these donations also contribute to saving human lives. Sanquin uses these donations, for example, to manufacture and improve blood group and other diagnostic tests.

People who need blood receive a blood transfusion with blood from donors. It’s very important that they receive the right blood, matching their own blood group. Otherwise, the patient's immune system can break down the donor's blood, making the patient much sicker. In order to ensure the right blood is given, it must first be tested. That’s done with reagents. These are substances that – as the name implies – react with some components of the blood. This indicates, for example, which blood group the blood has, whether it contains antibodies or has other characteristics or abnormalities. In this way, important information about the blood is learned.

Determining a blood group

Reagents are made from red and white blood cells and plasma. For example, to make a test that identifies a certain blood group, you need plasma that contains antibodies against that blood group. And to know whether a patient produces antibodies against certain blood groups, you have to bring their plasma into contact with small amounts of those different blood groups in a test tube. For this purpose, at Sanquin, we make so-called 'cell panels' from blood from multiple donors with different blood group combinations. These cell panels are crossed (mixed) with patient blood in hospitals to see how the blood reacts.


The cell panels have a limited shelf life – an average of four weeks. New donations for the cell panels are therefore constantly needed in order to be able to continue testing patient and donor blood. Our donor database includes donors with special blood group combinations. We specifically invite them to come and donate for the making of the cell panels. We call such a donation 'NFT' - Not for transfusion.

The antibodies in plasma have a longer shelf life, about two to three years. But for this we still regularly invite donors who we know have certain important antibodies in their plasma. Sometimes a special antibody is accidentally found in a whole blood donation at Sanquin's Screening Laboratory – where all the donated blood is tested. Then we ask the donor in question if they would like to donate plasma especially for our diagnostic examination.

More information about our NFT blood products (in Dutch)