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It’s World Blood Donor Day and many people will have been inspired to give a pint to help others. But what actually happens to your blood after you’ve donated it and are recovering with a couple of biscuits?

Researchers in the Radcliffe Department of Medicine are investigating ‘better blood transfusion’ – how can we improve the process of replacing lost blood. Here are just some of the studies taking place in Oxford, in collaboration with Centres across the UK, as part of the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) Clinical Trials Unit.

Boosting red blood cells

When thinking about who your pint of blood can help, people often think about emergency situations – a car accident or during surgery. But there are many people with chronic diseases who are regularly dependent on blood transfusions. Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a condition where bone marrow – the new blood cell factory – doesn’t produce enough healthy blood cells. People with MDS develop anaemia, which means they don’t have enough red blood cells to carry vital oxygen around the body, and experience extreme tiredness and shortness of breath. Currently, when red blood cell levels drop to a certain level, people with MDS receive blood transfusions to prevent complications such heart disease. But people may still feel out of breath and tired. Researchers, led by Dr Simon Stanworth, are now investigating whether people with MDS should have transfusions to keep their red blood cell numbers at a higher level. They’ll be looking at whether this approach is safe and if it can improve quality of life for those with the condition.  You can read more about the study here.

When’s the best time to transfuse blood?

Red blood cells can be kept for and used over a month after donation. Researchers in Oxford took part in an international trial to test whether using red blood cells sooner after donation would help reduce the risk of death in critically ill patients. In fact, there was no difference between those patients that received the newer blood (less than eight days after donation) and those who received older donations. This research has helped confirm that the current practice of ‘first one in, first one out’ for pints of blood is effective, and ensures precious donations aren’t wasted.  

Platelets transfusions in new born babies

Platelets are small sticky cell fragments that help blood to clot – an important process to stem bleeding (more about donating platelets here). Some babies need platelet transfusions as they don’t have enough cells of their own. Currently, these babies receive platelet transfusions when there are signs of bleeding. But is this the best time? The team at the NHSBT Clinical Trials Unit, including Dr Simon Stanworth and Prof Michael Murphy, are trying to find out. They are looking at when transfusions should be given as a preventative measure to premature babies who don’t have enough platelets, but who have no signs of bleeding. They hope this study will improve the treatment of babies to help stop life-threatening bleeds. You can read more about the study here.


NHS Blood and Transfusion need 6,000 people a day to donate blood to help all the people who need it, and through research we’ll be able to make sure your donation is used in the best possible way. Find out how you can donate here.