A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Colleen Gorman Koch and Cleveland Clinic colleagues, examined the transfusion records for 6,002 cardiac surgery patients in the wake of several smaller studies that indicate that, if transfused blood is nearing its expiration date (6 weeks), recipients are 64% more likely to die in the hospital.

     In Dr. Koch’s study, 2.8% of those who received old blood died in the hospital, compared to 1.7% who got fresher blood.

    Over 14 million units of blood are transfused into patients across the United States each day.  Blood can be stored and used for as long as six weeks, although evidence exists that the loss of nitric oxide over that six-week period can render the old blood less effective than fresher supplies.  That finding has led other researchers to attempt to rejuvenate the old blood with this critical agent (nitric oxide) for delivering oxygen to tissues.  Nitric oxide has been shown to disappear from the blood after six weeks in storage, in other studies.

     On Wednesday, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) stated, “The New England Journal of Medicine” study is narrow and non-randomized,” and that FDA regulatory action would be “premature.”

     Dr. Ross Herron, medical director for the American Red Cross said, “I don’t know if we would be able to get enough blood donors to offset that (regulatory action by the FDA).”

     Heart surgery patients are among the largest consumers of donor blood.  Some hospitals have already modified their procedures for cardiac surgery to minimize the need for blood transfusions for heart patients.