The BTRU in Donor Health and Genomics offers a fundamentally new approach to donor health research. In keeping with the NIHR BTRU call for approaches that combine “laboratory and population research”, the unit combines the precision of molecular measurements with the power of large-scale studies of donors. The deep integration of cutting-edge technologies (e.g., “multi-omics” assays) with large, well-characterised, and serially-assessed donor population studies will yield findings of considerable value and novelty to inform decision-making by NHSBT. To ensure a clinically relevant and hypothesis-driven approach, we will focus sharply on donation-related health outcomes and on biological pathways related to iron homeostasis. To ensure wide-angle consideration of determinants of donor health, each theme of our proposed BTRU will consider extensive genomic, biochemical, lifestyle and other potential risk factors. To harvest the complex and rich data that will emerge from our studies in a rigorous and principled manner, our team includes world leaders in epidemiology and biostatistics and builds on innovative approaches that we have previously developed.
To help protect the health of donors, it’s a requirement to find out whether a donor’s blood haemoglobin levels are adequate. The COMPARE Trial (ISRCTN90871183) is determining the best method for measuring iron levels in blood donors.
Haemoglobin is an iron-containing protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. Blood donor services have to measure haemoglobin levels in advance of each blood donation to protect the health of donors (e.g., to prevent anaemia) and to ensure the quality of blood products. NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) measure the haemoglobin levels of donors by placing a drop of donor’s blood into a copper sulphate solution. If the drop sinks sufficiently, then it is judged that the donor’s haemoglobin levels are high enough to donate. If the drop doesn’t sink sufficiently, then a more accurate and costly test is used (“HemoCue”).
The comparative merits of these processes have not been investigated thoroughly. The COMPARE study will survey donors attending blood donation sessions across England to compare different strategies for haemoglobin testing. Results from this study should help to shape NHSBT (and international) policy concerning haemoglobin screening.