March 29, 2019

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You might guess that the United States is the world’s biggest exporter of corn, but did you know that it is also one of the biggest exporters of blood? In fact, the U.S. exports more blood than it does corn, soybeans, or gold. More specifically, blood plasma - the yellow liquid that separates out, once your blood is in a tube or a bag - since it is a critical component in many pharmaceutical products and medicines. Rose George, author of “Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood” walks us through the economics, science, and ethics behind the blood industry.

Three Takeaways:

  • The United States exports a surprising amount of blood plasma. One reason for this is that the United States allows people to be paid for giving their blood. Plasma centers collect the blood and compensate the donators, and the law allows people to sell their plasma twice a week. But the ethics behind this are questionable, since many of these plasma centers are in low-income areas.
  • Blood plasma is highly sought after because it contains useful proteins and substances that can be turned into pharmaceutical products. These products go on to be used for many different things, like treating burn and trauma victims, helping organ transplant recipients, and aiding those with immune deficiency disorders.
  • Rose George explains that some countries emphasize blood type quite a lot. In Japan, for example, job interviews, dating, and diets can be personalized according to blood type. Your heritage can also help influence your blood type (Asian people, for example, are much less likely to have Type A blood than caucasian people), and there is a theory that such differences may stem from how well different types of blood do at responding to diseases in various geographical areas.

More Reading:

  • What is synthetic blood, and could it ever replace the need for human blood donations?
  • Find out more about Janet Vaughan and how she revolutionized our system of donating and delivering blood.
  • Read The Atlantic’s story on how low-income Americans are affected by blood plasma centers.

Body and Mind, health, Rose George, plasma, Blood

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