Donor health and wellbeing

How can we keep our donors happy and healthy? Researchers at Lifeblood are exploring ways to improve the donation experience, reducing the risk of adverse reactions, and broaden our understanding of how donating blood affects donor health over time. You can find some of our research already at work in donor centres!

Research leaders

A/Prof Tanya Davison
Dr Surendra Karki
Dr Nicky Guerin
Elizabeth Knight
Amanda Thijsen

Current projects

Long term study of blood donor health
Lifeblood is committed to continually ensure the health of blood donors. Studies that follow donors over a longer period of time and assess the differences in health outcomes according to donor characteristics can help us detect any long-term differences in health outcomes for particular groups.

In the Australian Blood Donor Study (ABDS)- pilot phase, we are testing the feasibility of this approach for research into long-term health and donation-related behaviour of our donors. In the pilot phase survey, we are also asking donors how they feel about donating blood for biobanking and broader research purposes.

Donating during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has changed many things that our Lifeblood donors previously took for granted. 

Donating is just one activity affected by the pandemic. Donors have been asked to follow Lifeblood's own guidelines for donating, as well as keeping up with changing Australian emergency guidelines and restrictions for behaviour more generally. 

These guidelines mean different things for different donors. We want to ask donors how they feel about donating during this time, and find out how this affects their donation experience and behaviour. Our findings will help us to support donors and provide the information they need to continue to donate safely.

Implementing applied muscle tension during plasma donation
Most donors donate successfully but some may feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseous known as a vasovagal reaction). By tensing the major muscles in the legs and abdomen, donors can increase their blood pressure which prevents them from having a vasovagal reaction.

We’ve shown this technique helps reduce these reactions in whole blood donations and now we want to find out how we can best introduce muscle tensing exercises for plasma donations.

Predicting adverse reactions
Vasovagal reactions, where a donor feels dizzy or faint, are the most commonly reported adverse reaction to blood donation.

This study will use a wearable device to help identify these reactions early on by measuring skin conductance and heart rate during the donation procedure. This study is a collaboration with Dr Philippe Gilchrist from Macquarie University.

Data Linkage with the 45-and-up study
The incidence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer increase with ageing. In this study, known as the EDVLINK study, we have linked the data of a large population based study in NSW called ‘The Sax Institute’s 45 and Up study’ with several external health-related datasets including Lifeblood’s blood donation-related information.

Through this data linkage we have compared blood donors to similar health middle-aged and older adult non-donors, to see if there are differences in the chronic diseases, health outcomes and interactions with health services.

Donation, health and me
How donors feel about the effects of donation on their health is important for their wellbeing and influences their decisions about when to donate.

We want to understand more about what donors think are the positive and negative health effects of donation so that we can provide relevant information and support.

We’re planning to use donors’ perspectives to improve and personalise the donation experience.

We are reviewing international research, and interviewing and surveying Lifeblood donors in Australia, to investigate how donors’ perceptions relate to their donation experiences and behaviour.

Interventions to improve donor return following a vasovagal reaction
Feeling dizzy or fainting during a blood donation is a very unpleasant experience. We want to be able to help donors overcome these events by improving the way we manage these reactions at the centre as well as the way we communicate with donors after they left the centre.


Selected recent publications

Thijsen A, Masser B. (2019) Vasovagal reactions in blood donors: risks, prevention and management. Transfusion Medicine 29(S1):13-22 doi:10.1111/tme.12488

Thijsen A, Masser B, Gemelli CN, Davison TE. (2019) Trends in return behaviour after an adverse event in Australian whole blood and plasma donors. Transfusion 59(10):3157-63 doi:10.1111/trf.15475

Karki, S., Davison, T., Thijsen, A., Gemelli, C.N., Irving, D.O., Wright, S.T (2019). Completeness and accuracy of self-reported history of blood donation- results from a cohort of older adults in Australia. Transfusion; 59; 26-31.

Gemelli, C.N., Thijsen, A., Karki, S., Davison, T., Irving, D.O., Wright, S.T (2018). Demographic and health profile of older Australian blood donors: results from the Extended Donor Vigilance data linkage study (EDV:Link). ISBT Science Series; 13; 412-20.

Thijsen A, Gemelli CN, Davison TE, O'Donovan J, Bell B, Masser B. (2018) Does using applied muscle tension at strategic time points during donation reduce phlebotomist- and donor-reported vasovagal reaction rates? A three-armed randomized controlled trial. Transfusion 58(10):2352-9. doi:10.1111/trf.14940

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