Written by Judith Weeks with Photography by Bill Thawley
A person with Sickle Cell Disease can receive as many as 100 units of blood in one year. These blood transfusions are necessary to treat complications from this condition. But the transfusion itself can cause complications. Blood from a pool of donors is matched best as possible; however, a person with Sickle Cell Disease may develop an immune response making it more difficult to find donors. Most persons with Sickle Cell Disease are African American and the most compatible blood generally comes from African Americans.
American Red Cross Laboratories in Philadelphia play a critical role typing blood donated by African Americans.
The National Molecular Laboratory (NML) is the only American Red Cross Laboratory providing genotyping of donors. A person’s genomic DNA contains information that is a more comprehensive predictor of a close blood match than the usual serology typing. African American donors who are genotyped are given the opportunity for membership in the American Rare Blood Donor Program, a national initiative to ensure blood is available for those who need it.
Dr. Margaret Keller, pictured below, Executive Director, National Laboratories, explained there is a shortage of African American donors. Last year the American Red Cross began the Sickle Cell Initiative to increase the number of active African American donors.
Test tubes of donor’s blood are delivered to the NML for genotyping. Giancarlo Rendon, pictured below, examines a sample of DNA purified from whole blood.
Below, Melissa Verstegen places tiny drops of donor’s DNA on a glass slide.
Dr. Martin Chou, pictured below, Director of the NML, explains the MALDI TOF analyzer used for identification of DNA in each donor’s sample
Below, Julia Nezhinsky places the slide with DNA into the MALDI TOF analyzer.
Below, Daria Buono analyzes DNA data from the MALDI TOF analyzer identifying genes carried by a donor.
The National Reference Laboratory for Specialized Testing (NRLST) has expertise for specialized serology. Serology is used for typing ABO and Rh blood groups. This laboratory takes serology a step further with a panel of antibodies for typing blood units from African American donors selecting the best donor for patients with Sickle Cell Disease.
Below, Dexter Facey, Manager, places cartridges into an automated system for typing African American blood donors.
The Immunohematology Reference Laboratory (IRL) is one of forty-five American Red Cross IRLs nationwide. This laboratory has the resources for red blood cell serology typing of rare blood types. It selects blood units from African American donors that best match a patient with Sickle Cell Disease.
Below, Marie Dolce types blood units from African American donors.
Below, Paul Mansfield, IRL Director, and Leslie Pride review blood typing results before releasing blood units sent to hospitals where patients are transfused.
Paul explains “the American Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative has brought the entire organization together focusing on serving patients with Sickle Cell Disease.”
The work of these laboratory scientists is critical! Lives are saved by advanced genotyping and serologic typing performed at the American Red Cross, allowing the best possible blood products for persons with Sickle Cell Disease.
To learn more about sickle cell disease, check out the following links: