Does transferring blood between two people also transfer all the white blood cells?

Why can't AIDS victims with low t-cell count just get blood transfusions till they have more t-cells? Why can't someone who's over a cold give blood to someone with a cold to cure them? I know this is silly, but I really want to know why this won't work.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Don't know if this qualifies as a disease, but have you heard of the experiment that supposedly slowed down ageing by transfusing blood from young to old mice? It was a normal transfusion, consisting just of RBCs as described by @Amory, and apparently, there was something in the young blood that decreased in concentration as the mice aged. See here and here for more info. $\endgroup$
    – user22925
    Apr 3, 2016 at 6:44
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, that's some sci fi stuff. I assume it will lead to a dystopian future where everyone is Elizabeth Bathory - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_B%C3%A1thory $\endgroup$
    – CornSmith
    Apr 6, 2016 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ Isnt't that the new WBCs will get infected again with HIV already present in the patient? As well; blood cells are continuously being synthesized as well old-blood cells are dying after certain stage. So even if blood transfusion not done... all of us are continuously using a bit new blood. $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2017 at 7:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ t-cells do not last forever, the victims would need constant transfusion. $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2017 at 13:51

1 Answer 1


Not really no. Most blood transfusions we think about are red blood cells or platelets, which don't have the immune function you're asking for. That's a good thing. Usually, if there are white blood cells in the transfused blood, the host's immune system will recognize them as foreign and destroy them. Remember, your cells all look like foreign invaders to my cells; blood transfusions of red blood cells are carefully matched to limit negative reactions. There is also a process called transfusion-associated graft versus host disease in which the donor white blood cells will attack the host cells; this mainly occurs in immune-compromised individuals, but GvHD is definitely something to avoid. Blood transfusions are usually filtered and irradiated to remove, among other things, white blood cells.

That being said, people are beginning to use white blood cells as treatment. A new therapy being studied heavily for all sorts of diseases, from cancer to HIV, is to take the hosts own white blood cells and grow them up in the lab to select for the strongest and most effective cells. The researchers then wipe out the individual's immune system and give them a dose of their own, super-powered white blood cells, hoping that works.

Sometimes it kind of does. They've also been trying a new system, similar to what you propose, using bone marrow. They had a huge success with an HIV-positive individual now referred to as "the Berlin patient." They gave him a marrow transfusion which would produce HIV-immune white blood cells and replaced his immune system. He was and is effectively cured of HIV/AIDS.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow interesting! But why do they have to wipe out the host's immune system before injecting the "super white blood cells" that they grew? Also why can parts of the body be transplanted without (usually) being destroyed like the white blood cells? Are blood cells more scrutinized by the native white ones? $\endgroup$
    – CornSmith
    Aug 29, 2013 at 22:03
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @CornSmith To answer your first question, it's usually a numbers game. No matter how many cells the researchers can grow your body is probably producing more. A virus like HIV, for example, infects T-cells, so if 5% are super-charged but 95% are still susceptible... $\endgroup$
    – Amory
    Aug 29, 2013 at 22:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As for your second question, all transplants are hugely scrutinized, far more than red blood cells. We distinguish our own tissues from foreign ones using the MHC antigens, and they're very difficult to match perfectly; siblings, for example, have only a one-in-four chance of matching up. If there's any difference, there will be an immune reaction. In most cases, there will be some attack, which is why people can reject transplants (in the worst cases) and why almost everyone receiving a donation takes immune-suppressors. It's better to have a liver. $\endgroup$
    – Amory
    Aug 29, 2013 at 22:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .