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Freeze-dried blood could help preserve donations for years

People around the world are generous in donating their blood every year to help provide the amount necessary for life-saving transfusions. But storing blood isn’t easy. While millions of units are donated to blood banks each year, donations can typically only be stored for around six weeks. However, thanks to research coming out of the University of Louisville, that may all be about to change.

Researchers in Louisville have developed a new technique for freeze-drying blood which could potentially enable it to last for years. This would be a major advance not only for our hospitals, but also for

providing blood in scenarios such as the battlefield — or even in space.

“The freeze-drying process that we use to produce dried blood is based on the standard method often used to produce dried pharmaceuticals, which involves freezing samples and evaporating the water under vacuum,” Jonathan Kopechek, Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Louisville, told Digital Trends. “The unique aspect of our research is a novel method to load a protective sugar called trehalose into red blood cells so that the cells can survive the freeze-drying process.”

The innovative approach uses ultrasound to create pores in the blood cells. This then enables the researchers to load in the trehalose molecules. Although the research is still experimental, trehalose has previously been shown to be safe. It is already employed as a preservative for certain food items, including donut glaze. (And, hey, if it’s good enough for preserving donuts, it should be good enough for helping preserve blood!)

But Kopechek said that there is still more work that needs to be done before this can be rolled out to blood banks as a proven preservation technology.

“There is still more work to do before this technique can be used to produce dried blood for clinical use,” he explained. “We are working to scale up the process to produce larger quantities of dried blood and we are conducting additional testing to characterize the function and quality of the cells after processing.”

A paper describing the work, titled “Ultrasound-induced molecular delivery to erythrocytes using a microfluidic system,” was recently published in the journal Biomicrofluidics.

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