NIH To Study Blood Banking Storage Procedures

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If you are in need of a blood transfusion, it is possible that the blood has been stored for up to 42 days before you receive it. While the Food and Drug has deemed this length of time to be safe, a number of small studies are questioning the procedure. The National Institutes of Health is launching a study to better understand the optimal time of blood storage before it reaches a recipient or needs to be tossed.

In hospitals, red blood cells must be stored under refrigeration and can be kept for a maximum of 42 days. The procedure for the use of blood is similar to that of food storage – “first in, first out”, to ensure that the oldest blood is used first so that none expires. The average age of transfused blood is just over 16 days.

“Donated blood saves lives every day,” says Dr. Simone Glynn, transfusion medicine chief at the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “We certainly do not want to run out of it.”

About one in every seven hospitalized patients requires a transfusion. Fifteen million bags are administered in the US each year – and each year there are shortages. The American Red Cross says that more than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day.

Read: Red Cross Announces Critical Need for Type O Blood

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Scientists know that blood breaks down the longer it is stored, but it is not clear whether those changes are enough to trigger side effects. A small number of studies suggest that older blood may increase the risk of complication such as blood clots, infections, or organ dysfunction.

A study by the Cleveland Clinic found that heart-surgery patients who received blood more than two weeks old were slightly more likely to die, required a ventilator longer, and had a higher rate of infection and kidney failure than those who got fresher blood.

"Of course we want to transfuse the best product possible to save patients' lives," Glynn. "If a product isn't as good as it could be, let's say, then we need to find out why and be able to modify it."

Read: National Volunteer Blood Donor Month Begins with Severe Shortages

Darrell Triulzi, medical director for the Institute for Transfusion Medicine, warns patients not to be concerned about the age of the blood they might receive in a transfusion because the association between longer blood shelf life and negative outcomes so far is observational and there is not yet any evidence that it is clinically relevant.

Obviously, in many cases, receiving the blood is better for health than worrying about the age.

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