UT Southwestern performs photopheresis, the collection and treatment of white blood cells, for patients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and beyond.
Advanced Treatment for White Blood Cell Disorders
Photopheresis, also known as extracorporeal photopheresis, is a nonsurgical immunomodulatory therapy that collects and treats white blood cells from the blood using a machine.
UT Southwestern is a recognized leader in apheresis, offering both inpatient and outpatient services seven days a week. Our dedicated team of physicians, advanced practice providers, registered nurses, and certified apheresis technicians provides the most advanced care and uphold our institution’s mission of delivering the highest level of quality, safety, and service.
In addition, our physicians actively participate in multicenter clinical trials that focus on advancements such as using photopheresis for the treatment of lung transplant rejection.
Conditions We Treat with Photopheresis
Photopheresis is used to treat a variety of conditions, including:
- Lung transplant rejection
- Heart transplant rejection
- Chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a life-threatening condition in which the immune cells of the donor tissue attack the host’s tissues after certain stem cell or bone marrow transplants
- Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL), cancer that begins in white blood cells (T-cells)
Photopheresis: What to Expect
During photopheresis, small amounts of blood are gradually removed through an inserted needle or central line catheter and circulated through a machine that separates the blood into red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma. The white cells are collected to undergo subsequent treatment.
The white cells are targeted because they are the underlying cause of a disease, and the addition of the medication leads to early cell death (helping to treat the disease).
In the case of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, the white cells are abnormal. In other diseases, the white cells are responsible for an immune response, and photopheresis aims to diminish this response.
During this procedure, white blood cells are treated with a medication called 8-methoxypsoralen. This medication requires activation by long-wave ultraviolet (UVA) irradiation, which takes place within the machine. Once this is complete, the treated white blood cells are returned to the patient along with the rest of the patient’s blood.
Photopheresis is a safe procedure with few side effects.
Prior to a procedure, we recommend that patients drink large amounts of non-carbonated, non-alcoholic beverages for a couple of days. We also recommend eating a meal prior to the scheduled procedure.
If intravenous catheters (IVs) are placed, patients’ arms will be propped on pillows, and they will be asked to squeeze their fist to help promote blood flow. Patients may experience bruising or discomfort where the IVs are placed. If a larger catheter or port is used instead, patients will have free use of their arms during the procedure.
The procedure typically lasts two hours but can last shorter or longer depending on a variety of factors.
After starting the procedure, patients may experience some mild numbness, tingling, light-headedness, or nausea. An apheresis staff member who specializes in the procedure will be with the patient during the entire treatment. Patients should tell their nurse of any side effects or symptoms they feel.
It is important that patients avoid direct and indirect sunlight and wear dark glasses for 24 hours after each treatment, as their eyes and skin will be temporarily more sensitive to sunlight.
How to Refer a Patient for Apheresis
Our outpatient program offers an easy referral process for patients across Texas and neighboring states. Our team will assist with insurance authorization and coordination of care.
As part of the care, we routinely perform a peripheral vein evaluation to avoid the need for central venous access. In addition, our apheresis physicians are readily available to consult and collaborate with the referring physician to develop a treatment plan.
Please contact our Apheresis Clinic at 214-633-3190, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.