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Creating Safer Blood Products

NSF Award:

Optimal Blood Screening Strategies for Infectious Agents: Mathematical Models and Decision Support Tools  (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)

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Blood products are essential for many medical treatments, including major surgeries, cancer therapies and treatment of trauma victims. However, blood products can transmit many dangerous infections. To minimize the risk of a transfusion-transmitted infection, NSF-funded researchers, in collaboration with the American Red Cross, are developing strategies for screening blood products.

So far, they have completed a number of their numerical models and have calibrated them using real data from transfusion journals from various developed and developing countries. The models compute the correct tests required based on numerous variables including needs, location and budget. Their research has also projected the need for a wide array of new tests for sub-Saharan Africa to better satisfy World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blood screening guidelines.

The primary goal of this research is to determine an optimal set of screening tests and a testing strategy to make the blood supply safer, decrease waste (from false-positive testing) and reduce costs in blood supply chains. The research will contribute to the field of operations research by developing new problems and models and studying their structural properties. This research will also advance the knowledge base by building a better understanding of the optimal screening test composition and strategy for donated blood.

In the U.S., the FDA mandates screening for certain diseases and approves screening tests. Each disease may have multiple FDA-approved tests, each with different efficacy, cost and testing strategies. To determine the best screening tests, the researchers consider blood product characteristics, donor populations, the importance of various metrics and more unconventional testing schemes. They then create new models that cover an assortment of issues, such as the risk of unconventional testing schemes and equity-based objectives, and the trade-off between screening accuracy versus frequency.


  • manual testing of blood samples
Some blood samples require manual testing.
Dave Miller, Charlotte National Testing Labratory

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