When we think of medical research, we typically think of scientists, in laboratories, using microscopes, test tubes and beakers. Or you think of that awful experience in 10th grade science class when you vowed to yourself you would never become a scientist.
There are indirect ways, though, that we can participate in research ourselves. Going to the doctor with a sore throat helps research, because your throat swab (also called a culture) is sent to a lab where your illness is diagnosed. Participating in a survey helps research, because the results are polled and a conclusion is formed. Donating blood helps research because your blood contains information that can help advance medicine. While we know that some donations go to patients in need, others go to research.
For first-time blood donors, it’s important to understand how this all works. Here are some specific ways in which blood donations help advance medical research.
Blood Donations Help Develop Immunotherapies for Specific Diseases
Patients with specific conditions are often asked to donate blood to research, because the components in their blood, like plasma, serum or platelets, can be used to identify possible treatments--and maybe even a cure--for various diseases. For example, patients with COVID-19 or who had COVID-19 antibodies were asked to participate in blood donation drives where their blood would be used for medical research. Since COVID-19 was a condition never before seen in the United States, the research needed to quickly develop vaccines stemmed from patients who either previously had or currently were diagnosed with the virus.
Similarly, for cancer patients, therapies have extended far past chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery thanks in large part to blood research, For example, in women with cervical cancer, blood research has led to the development of preventive vaccines that are administered to young women without cancer in order to prevent the disease from occurring.
Donors Can Test New Point of Care Products
Patients may often be tasked with testing out new products in the industry as part of research. A popular 2021 healthcare trend involves point-of-care (POC) testing, or testing that allows physicians and medical staff to accurately achieve real-time, lab-quality diagnostic results within minutes as opposed to hours. Through the use of portable blood analysers, testing at the “point of care” streamlines the diagnostic process and helps ensure patients receive the most effective and efficient care when and where it is needed.
These POC blood analysers, however, need to be tested extensively before they can be sent to doctor’s offices for patient care. Enter blood donations. There are three important roles that blood donors can play in testing POC devices:
Donated Blood Can Make Helper T-Cells
Helper T’s are the most important cells because they help the immune system respond to pathogens like viruses, bacteria, and cancer. A subset of these cells, called Tregs (regulatory T-cells), have become popular among patients with certain conditions because they prevent other immune cells from attacking the body’s tissue and other harmless cellular “stuff” such as food or friendly bacteria. Man-made Tregs have a calming power by releasing anti-inflammatory cytokines. These are called CAR-Tregs.
But how does blood donation play into this? Well, CAR-Tregs are made by taking a patient’s blood, removing the Tregs that currently live inside of it, and engineering them to contain a special receptor. Once reinfused into the patient, the new receptor directs the Tregs to recognize a protein from inflamed areas of a patient suffering from an autoimmune or inflammatory disorder. When they encounter the activating protein, they release anti-inflammatory cytokines.
By drawing the patient’s blood, scientists, therefore, are able to construct these man-made super T-cells that they normally wouldn’t have been able to make. Taking old blood, doctoring it up, and reinfusing it with life-saving materials would not be possible had scientists not acquired donated blood in the first place.
Going the Extra Mile to Donate
Donors may be conflicted about donating to medical research, especially if their sample is going to be manipulated for genetics or to research DNA. It is important to note, however, that all participants who donate their blood to research do so willingly and knowingly by following an informed consent process and must meet a criterion of eligibility prior to donation.
All donors to medical research must be:
Donating to medical research may take some additional steps as opposed to donating blood for transfusion. However, it’s clear that we need donors in order to further medical research and continue the necessary steps doctors and researchers take to cure diseases. By donating to research, you can call yourself a participant in science--without the goggles, lab coat, and flashbacks from high school.
Sign up to donate today or contact us at +44 203 608 6260 to learn more.