URMC Receives $1.5M to Study Safety of Blood Transfusions

June 24, 2010

This week it was announced that blood researchers Neil Blumberg, M.D., and Richard Phipps, Ph.D., at the University of Rochester Medical Center, were among a select group of investigators nationwide who received federal awards to improve the safety of blood transfusions.

The $1.5 million grant over four years from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) will support research into whether the safety and effectiveness of blood transfusions vary depending upon how the blood is processed and how long it is stored.

According to the NHLBI, current regulations allow health care facilities to store red blood cells for up to 42 days at about 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) before being transfused. (The average age of transfused red blood cells in the United States is estimated to be a little more than 16 days.) Some studies, however, associate older blood with more health complications in patients, many of whom already have a serious underlying illness.

The NHLBI grants will support the first research projects to systematically evaluate the storage and preparation changes that red blood cell units undergo, and whether those changes affect the immune system, blood vessels and tissue of the patients being transfused.

Blumberg and Phipps will specifically investigate changes in red blood cell units' supernatant, a fluid byproduct of blood, as well as changes in hemoglobin, micro particles, and fats. The team hopes to identify what effects the biological mediators in stored red blood cells have on patients' platelets, and whether salt-water washing or other methods reverse those effects.

Blumberg is a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and director of the URMC Transfusion Medicine Unit and Blood Bank. For 25 years he has researched the complications associated with blood transfusions and has advocated for a more judicious use of blood. Phipps, an expert in platelet biology, is a professor of Environmental Medicine.

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