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Banked Blood Gets Stiffer with Time

Update Date: Sep 05, 2014 09:30 AM EDT

A blood bank is a place where donated blood is stored until further use. In a new study, researchers from the University of Illinois set out to examine the quality of banked blood. They found that the longer blood is stored, the stiffer the blood gets, which can affect how effectively the blood transfers oxygen throughout the body.

"Our results show some surprising facts: Even though the blood looks good on the surface, its functionality is degrading steadily with time," said lead researcher, Gabriel Popescu, an electrical and computer engineering professor who is also a part of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the U. of I.

For this study, the researchers utilized spatial light interference microscopy (SLIM) in order to measure how blood cells changed over time. SLIM, which was created in Popescu's lab, works by using light to examine cell mass and topology without disrupting the cells. With the method, they were able to take time-lapse images of the cells.

The researchers found that overtime, many of the cell's characteristics remained the same. The cells had the same shape, mass and hemoglobin content. The one major change that the researchers found was that the longer the blood was stored, the stiffer and less elastic the cell membrane became, which can affect how the cells travel through small capillaries.

"In microcirculation such as that in the brain, cells need to squeeze though very narrow capillaries to carry oxygen," said postdoctoral researcher Basanta Bhaduri, the lead author of the paper reported in the press release. "If they are not deformable enough, the oxygen transport is impeded to that particular organ and major clinical problems may arise. This is the reason why new red blood cells are produced continuously by the bone marrow, such that no cells older than 100 days or so exist in our circulation.

Currently, the shelf life for blood in a blood bank is 42 days. The researchers hope that their method, SLIM, could be used clinically to examine blood quality before it is given to a patient.

The study was published in the journal, Scientific Reports.

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