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World’s First ‘Blood Matching’ Genetic Test to Better Pair People for Blood Transfusions

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 31 Jan 2024
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Image: NHS has rolled out a world-first blood matching test (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: NHS has rolled out a world-first blood matching test (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

In the UK, there are about 17,000 individuals living with sickle cell disorder, and each year there are around 250 new cases. This condition, predominantly affecting people of black African and Caribbean descent, can lead to significant organ damage and intense pain. In contrast, the UK has around 800 patients with thalassaemia and less than 50 new cases annually. Thalassaemia patients struggle to produce sufficient hemoglobin, which, if untreated, can result in life-threatening anemia. This condition is most prevalent among people of Asian, Middle Eastern, and southern Mediterranean backgrounds. While life-saving blood transfusions are a common treatment for these inherited blood disorders, about 20% of patients develop antibodies against certain blood groups, causing delays in their treatment. Now, a groundbreaking 'blood matching' genetic test, the first of its kind in the world, is being made available to thousands of these patients in the UK to better pair people for blood transfusions.

NHS England (NHSE, London, UK) is encouraging patients with sickle cell, thalassaemia, and other rare inherited anemias that require transfusions to take the test. Around 18,000 individuals with sickle cell disorder and thalassaemia are anticipated to be eligible for this test. It is expected to reduce side effects and facilitate more tailored care. The use of DNA analysis in this test will enable healthcare providers to match blood donors and recipients more accurately, particularly for those with complex medical needs.

“Being able to provide high-quality and more personalized care to people with inherited blood disorders is an important step forward in helping to reduce health inequalities and this innovative test will greatly improve quality of life for people living with these disorders,” said Professor Bola Owolabi, NHSE director of health inequalities.

“We welcome this significant advancement in enhancing care for individuals with sickle cell disorder,” added John James, the chief executive at the Sickle Cell Society. “With the introduction of this innovative test, we take a remarkable stride towards achieving better blood matches for all those living with the condition.”

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