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January – National Blood Donor Month

Welcome back to the Lifeline Blog–it’s the start of a brand-new year! To kick off another exciting year of posts highlighting life sciences research, we wanted to shine a spotlight on January as National Blood Donor Month.

The American Red Cross and Blood Banks of America encourage everyone who is eligible to consider blood donation as demand typically increases during the winter months. Unfortunately, it is estimated that while 38% of the US population is eligible to donate blood, less than 10% actually do, despite an overwhelming need. Nearly 36,000 units of red blood cells and 7,000 units of platelets are needed every day in the US according to The American Red Cross. Blood donation is a simple and easy procedure with few side effects that are generally well tolerated by donors that are a vitally important part of any healthcare system. Blood transfusions are routinely used in hospitals and medical centers to treat patients with blood disorders, chronic illnesses, cancer, and those requiring blood replacement as a result of surgeries, and traumatic injuries.

Moreover, with the COVID-19 pandemic fresh in everyone’s mind, it is relevant to highlight the positive contribution of blood plasma donation from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 infection. Convalescent plasma contains antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that can be given to COVID-19 patients to boost their ability to fight the virus by activating the immune response. This therapy was given U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency authorization on August 23, 2020, for the treatment of COVID-19 patients and really underscores the importance of volunteer blood donors to the health and welfare of the population.

Blood Groups and Blood Isolation

The ABO blood group system is used to classify the donor blood type, which is determined for blood used in transfusions. The four main donor blood types are A, B, AB, or O that are further subcategorized by the donor’s Rh (D) type where the presence or absence of the D antigen is indicated by the + or − sign. Type O- is cited as the “universal donor” specifically in reference to whole blood transfusions, whereas the universal donor for platelet transfusions is AB+ and both AB-/+ are universal plasma donor types.

The two main methods of obtaining blood from a donor include whole blood taken directly from a vein (usually the large arm vein) or by a process called apheresis, where whole blood taken from the donor is passed through a machine, which extracts and collects the needed components of blood before returning the remaining components back to the donor’s circulation. For example, leukapheresis is a specific type of apheresis where white blood cells are separated from a sample of blood for collection.

Blood Donation for Biomedical and Scientific Research

Blood donation is also valuable to further biomedical and scientific research, providing opportunities for researchers to better understand normal physiology, disease onset, progression, and to advance progress in the fields of cellular therapies, and transplantation medicine. Peripheral blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Of these cell populations, white blood cells or lymphocytes – comprised of B cells, T cells, and natural killer cells and monocytes ­– have immense therapeutic potential because of their central role in the immune response against foreign pathogens (i.e., bacteria, viruses, and fungi) and abnormal cells (as in cancer).

The isolation of primary blood cells to establish in vitro culture systems in research laboratories across the globe is widely utilized to execute scientific studies because they are more similar to the in vivo state. This allows investigators to use them as models to gain insight into gene expression, metabolic pathways and untangle the complex molecular mechanisms driving normal development and the onset of cancers and other diseases, as well as for evaluating the effects of drugs and toxic compounds on cells. While primary blood cells can be maintained in culture for a short period of time, they will undergo senescence, unlike immortalized cell lines, or lose their in vivo characteristics during prolonged culture as a result of genetic drift. This is why routine access to donated blood products is so important. Donors should feel proud to be a part of the scientific community and efforts to advance scientific knowledge and facilitate medical breakthroughs that can lead to new drugs and vaccines or even cures for diseases like cancer in the future.

For more information on blood donation or to find a donation center near you, please visit: https://www.redcrossblood.org/

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