The NHS is set to introduce a new genetic blood-matching test for thousands living with sickle cell disease or thalassaemia that could reduce some of the side effects of transfusion treatments.
As it marks its 75th year, the NHS is to become the first healthcare system in the world to provide blood group genotyping, a detailed DNA analysis of each patient’s blood group, to more accurately match those in need of transfusions to donated blood.
The landmark new programme, delivered in partnership by NHS England and NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), will help ensure patients receive the best treatment for them, reducing the risk/impact of reactions to donor blood and the development of antibodies that attack the donor blood cells.
Almost a fifth of patients (17%) with sickle cell disorder, particularly common in people of Black African and Caribbean heritage, and almost a quarter of those with thalassaemia - seen in those with an Asian, Middle-Eastern and Southern Mediterranean heritage - (22%) experience side-effects after a transfusion because of inadequately matched blood, with the main source of blood for transfusions being people with European ancestry.
To tackle this, NHS England is providing funding of almost £1 million to NHSBT to provide blood group genotyping in its specialised molecular diagnostics laboratory. Once a donor database is developed this will support better matching of blood for people with sickle cell and thalassemia, reducing the development of antibodies and lead to better care for patients.
The genotyping programme would not be possible without a new testing array developed by the Blood Transfusion Genomics Consortium (BGC), an international partnership. The National Institute for Health and Care Research has (NIHR) provided critical funding and support for the BGC including through the NIHR Research Units at NHSBT and the NIHR BioResource. The BGC is also financially supported by organisations including NHS Blood and Transplant, University College London Hospitals, and Cambridge University Hospitals.