For blood components, freezing can extend storage and transport options, but specialised processes are needed to make sure that the components can still do their life-saving work when they are thawed. Research from the Blood Service puts Australia at the forefront of frozen blood technologies.
Blood for transfusions is separated into three components, red cells, platelets and plasma, each of which has its own optimum storage conditions and shelf life. The short shelf lives of only five days for platelets and six weeks for red blood cells make it a challenge to supply blood products to rural and remote areas.
After almost five years of research, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service has developed and implemented a process for preparing deep-frozen blood components in Australia. This ground-breaking work extends the shelf life of blood components up to 10 years by adapting and developing blood freezing and thawing technologies (known as cryopreservation). Blood Service researchers have gained particular expertise in the cryopreservation of platelets, which are the most difficult component of blood to freeze and thaw successfully. Platelets are the component of blood needed to help stop active bleeding after trauma or surgery.
Although frozen platelets have been used in emergency military environments, only one clinical trial has been conducted to date using frozen platelets in a civilian setting. Clinical trials are important to obtain results that under closely monitored conditions over an extended period of time. To extend our knowledge of the ability of frozen platelets to stop bleeding in patients, the Blood Service is participating in a clinical trial of frozen platelets (the “CLIP” trial), in collaboration with the researchers from the University of Queensland. The randomised, double blinded study is comparing the feasibility of use and clinical effectiveness of frozen platelets with fresh, liquid-stored platelets that have not been frozen in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Outcomes from the trial will provide valuable data to support the possible use of frozen platelets in non-military hospitals in the future.
If the technology is proven successful, it has the potential to revolutionise blood management, particularly in remote and rural hospitals, in Australia and internationally.
Johnson L et al (2014) Transfusion, 54(8), 1917-1926
Reade M et al (2013) Anaesth Intensive Care, 41(6), 804-805