Whole Blood May Have Much Longer Shelf Life Than Now Assumed in Official Standards

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A new study suggests that “fresh” whole blood may have a shelf life considerably longer than the 48 hours or so now considered standard. That could have significant implications in situations such as the treatment of combat casualties where whole blood may be preferred for transfusion, according to the researchers.

In the study, published in the January issue of Transfusion, authors noted that “the hemostatic property of ‘fresh’ whole blood has been observed in military application and cardiac surgery and is associated with reduced blood loss, transfusion requirements, and donor exposures. The time from donation to transfusion defining ‘fresh’ has not been systematically studied.”

Their research found that that normal integrated coagulation function was preserved for a minimum of 11 days under standard conditions of refrigerated storage. The authors said their observations “strongly suggest that the hemostatic quality of WB may extend beyond current transfusion practice” and called for more studies.

“We have found that whole blood retains its clotting properties at least 11 days under standard refrigeration,” the study leader, David Jobes, M.D., a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist in the Cardiac Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said. “If this lab discovery can be confirmed in human subjects, it may lead to a change in clinical practice, and possibly to improved survival for massively transfused patients.”

At Children’s Hospital, for example, fresh whole blood is assumed to have a shelf life of 48 hours when refrigerated. After that, although red blood cells can still be recovered from the blood, other components are discarded. “In any case, postponed surgeries currently waste resources,” Jobes said.

Further study could lead to a change in current practice in terms of whole blood shelf life, which could especially benefit military or disaster relief situations, according to Jobes.

“Trauma patients could potentially benefit, as well as others needing a large volume of blood replacement, such as patients undergoing liver transplant or children who need craniofacial reconstruction,” he said. By using donated whole blood more efficiently, he noted, fewer donors would be needed and the risks of transmission of blood borne viruses could be decreased.

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