Each year, nearly five million Americans need a blood transfusion. Transfusions are performed on a number of different patients, such as those coming out of surgery, cancer patients, those suffering from infections or severe burns, or patients with certain blood disorders. For the many that need a blood transfusion, a successful procedure could mean the difference between life and death. Scientists in France have designed a new breakthrough technology that can dramatically reduce the negative complications associated with blood transfusions, and in turn, save many lives.

The first recorded blood transfusion was done in 1665 by Englishman Richard Lower. Lower kept his dog alive by transfusing blood from other dogs. Since then, the blood transfusion has become a staple part of modern medicine, as well as a necessity for life to those who need it. According to a recent press release, a revolutionary technology is hoping to not only decrease the amount of negative reactions that some people may have during a blood transfusion but to also lower blood bank costs. The study, which will be published in May issue of The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, involves a new, safer and more cost-efficient system for molecular blood group typing, which will allow blood banks to do extensive screening of blood donors for a very low cost.

Traditionally, blood transfusions tend to be quite safe. It’s only when alloimmunization occurs that things become more complicated. The press release describes alloimmunization as when an antibody is formed in response to an antigen that is not present on a person’s own red blood cells. This issue is most problematic in patients with sickle cell-related diseases. “When patients have antibodies, producing a sufficient quantity of extensively typed blood units will never be feasible using conventional serologic donor screening methods,” explained lead investigator Jean-Charles Brès in the press release. The usual method is also quite time-consuming and involves a limited amount of antigen testing. Usually only five to 10 percent of donations are tested for other clinically significant antigens.

The new system is based on a flexible DNA microarray platform for molecular blood group typing. Two robotic workstations process the blood samples into genotypes. In previous test runs, the results have been very promising, showing to be both simple to use and highly cost efficient. It is four times lower than the per-antigen cost using serologic methods.

This procedure could be particularly helpful for patients who are undergoing long-term transfusions that are at high risk of alloantibody production. These include those patients with ailments such as sickle cell disease, thalassemia, or autoimmune hemolytic anemia. This technique would also be helpful in improving our ability to supply rare blood types for those who need them. The availability of DNZ-based blood group genotyping would do great things for the world of transfusion medicine and greatly decrease the chances of complications for those who regularly need transfusions.