Issue date: 10 July 2003

New DNA based technology looks set to supersede blood bank serological testing because more tests can be obtained at a fraction of the time according to a new research consortium* called ‘Bloodgen’ led by scientists at the University of the West of England (UWE). The new technology using gene chips is expected to reduce the risk of problems caused by incompatibility of blood types during transfusion, mainly because rare blood groups are not normally included in a routine screen. Currently the detection of rare blood group incompatibility relies on a test called the ‘cross match’ which is performed immediately prior to transfusion. DNA based testing may lead to the elimination of such a test.

The Bloodgen consortium has recently won significant funding of some 2.5 million euros from Framework V of the European Commission to investigate the feasibility of using DNA based technology for blood testing. This successful bid is the culmination of three years planning and brings together a consortium led by UWE that is capable of delivering the academic expertise, industrial support and international focus to make a real difference to transfusion science in practice.

Bloodgen will initiate a large-scale study of defining blood groups using new technology gene chips where as many as 300 reactions can be performed on a small microscope slide. This new technology if implemented on a large scale will improve the accuracy of blood typing, which from the outset will help individuals who require repeated transfusions to avoid potentially dangerous transfusion incompatibility.

Consortium leader, Professor Neil Avent from the Faculty of Applied Sciences at UWE said, “Routine blood grouping currently involves incubating a blood group specific antibody with donor red blood cells, and clumping of the cells is seen. This technique is extremely robust and has been in existence for over a century, but it's time-consuming and crucially cannot guarantee the same degree of accuracy in measuring blood groupings that can be achieved using gene chip technology".

“Recent advances in molecular biology have advanced at such a rate that blood groups can be defined using DNA based techniques rather than depending on red cells as raw material for the test. It will only be a matter of time before DNA-based technology will supersede the century old technology of serological testing in the blood bank.”

The Bloodgen consortium will convene for an inaugural meeting in the Faculty of Applied Sciences at UWE on 15 and 16 July 2003 bringing together academic and industrial partners with expertise in the field of transfusion medicine. The project will run for three years.


Editor’s notes

*Bloodgen is a consortium comprising six academic and two industrial partners who have expertise in the field of transfusion medicine. The partners are located throughout Europe, including Bristol UK (UWE, Bristol – the leading partner, and the National Blood Service, based at Southmead in Bristol), Central Laboratories of the Netherlands Red Cross Transfusion service, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Bloodbank Rotterdam, Netherlands; Institute of Haematology and Blood Transfusion, Prague, Czech Republic, Blood group Reference centre, Barcelona, Spain; University hospital, Lund, Sweden and the faculty of Medicine, University of Ulm, Germany. The industrial partners are Medplant genetics SL, Barakaldo, Spain and Biotest AG Dreieich, Germany.

The contract number for this project is QLK3-CT-2003-01772 and the source of co-funding is European Union's Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources Programme.

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