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Published Wednesday 30 May 2018

Research at Wellington’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) could change how red blood cells are treated at hospitals around the world.

Cells for neonatal patients are irradiated – treated with radiation –and stored until needed for a transfusion. Multiple transfusions take place in NICU each week.

However a pilot study on the effect of the cells’ transfusion on brain oxygenation in premature babies found the cells become less useful for carrying oxygen the longer they are stored after irradiation.

That led to the current study on how the treatment of cells affects their oxygen-carrying abilities in the bodies of very premature babies, and specifically if changing irradiation practice results in more oxygen getting to the brain.

“If we can confirm the pilot’s findings, then practice could change overnight and cells would only be irradiated when we need them,” said Consultant Neonatologist and Senior Lecturer Dr Max Berry.

“We would tell the blood bank when we wanted the cells, and they would be irradiated freshly for us – they wouldn’t sit in the lab, and the baby would get the maximum benefit of the transfusion. It’s really gratifying that just by changing custom you can potentially improve outcomes for patients.”

The study is the first of its kind and data is expected to be analysed and published before the end of the year. It is a collaboration between Capital & Coast DHB and the University of Otago Wellington, and is one of a number of research projects supported by NICU.

Media contact: Chas Te Runa – 027 230 9571