14 July 2021

Media Release:  World first blood service development to be trialled in major hospitals

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-        A development that could bring greater equity across our blood health services

New Zealand Blood Service (NZ Blood) has developed a ground-breaking method of preparing and storing blood platelets, allowing them to be frozen – cryopreserved – extending their shelf life from seven days to two years. 

Platelets are used to help manage post-operative bleeding in emergency situations, including trauma, major surgery like open-heart surgery and obstetrics emergencies.

Currently platelets can only be stored at room temperature, require constant agitation and only have a shelf life of seven days.  The short life span of platelets also means that hospitals outside of the main centres in New Zealand have limited or no immediate access to life-saving platelet-transfusions.

NZ Blood has been working hard for some time to address this issue, and its break-through development is now to be trialled in New Zealand’s five major hospitals performing cardiac surgery to investigate the effectiveness of cryopreserved platelets for the control of major bleeding.

This study with patients undergoing major elective heart surgery is being led by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ), led by Senior Clinical Research Fellows Dr Shay McGuinness and Associate Professor Rachael Parke, with funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand

Commenting on the trial Dr Shay McGuinness says, “We’re thrilled to be working in partnership with the dedicated team at the New Zealand Blood Service as together we look to optimise use of scarce platelet resource. Extending the shelf life of donated platelets, and having platelets available around the clock for emergency use at smaller hospitals across the country, would be a significant leap in patient care.”

Historically freezing platelets has been problematic, as the defrosting and reconstitution process requires combining platelets with a precise amount of plasma, and can only be carried out in specialist sterile facilities by a trained professional.  This manual process increases the chances of contamination.  

NZ Blood’s development comprises of a two-chamber bag that carries the exact level of platelets and plasma, separated by a special clip and a tube.  This allows the platelets to be easily and safely defrosted and mixed with the exact amount of plasma without the need for specialist sterile facilities.

This significant development has the potential to drive a significant clinical change, allowing platelets to be provided rapidly to patients that need them, even in smaller hospitals across New Zealand. 

Dr Richard Charlewood, Transfusion Medicine Specialist at New Zealand Blood Service says it has been a triumph of Kiwi ingenuity and the simplicity of the system means that it could be used to help patients anywhere in the world.

“If the trial confirms the success of our development, we will have a win-win in terms of patient equity and reduced wastage and cost of unused platelets.

“Quite literally it will be revolutionary for our health services throughout regional New Zealand with rural hospitals able have quick access to platelets.  And it will significantly reduce platelet wastage with the associated costs. Blood donations are precious, and no one wants to think their donation might not get used.”

Professor Sunny Collings, Chief Executive of the Health Research Council of New Zealand, funders of the trial, says “This study should confirm whether the use of frozen platelets is safe and effective in patients undergoing major heart surgery. If the treatment is successful, it could help preserve precious blood products and allow smaller hospitals to provide platelet transfusions, potentially making the gift of blood more accessible across New Zealand.”


About New Zealand Blood Service:

New Zealand Blood Service in a not-for-profit Crown entity responsible for the collection, processing, testing and storage and distribution of all blood and blood products in New Zealand. 

We rely on voluntary and non-remunerated blood donations from individuals around the country in order to provide a constant supply of precious blood and blood products used by our health services to save thousands of lives.

Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ):

MRINZ is an internationally recognised independent medical research organisation, charitable trust and academic institution. 

MRINZ’s medical scientists are dedicated to investigating the causes of important public health problems, to delivering high quality evidence on which to improve the management of diseases and patient care across a wide range of fields, and providing a base for specialist training in medical research.