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GMU Researchers Developing System to Help Ensure Blood Safety
By Jessica Pellegrini, ASBP Staff Writer
Pictured (from left to right) Vicky Genzel, Navy Cmdr. Leslie Riggs, Dr. Paulo Costa, Noha Hazzazi, Dr. Bo Yu, Dr. Duminda Wijesekera, Army Lt. Col. Mark Mellott. (Not pictured Julie Oliveri)
Researchers at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., are developing an automated validation and verification system to help ensure blood safety.
Army Lt. Col. Mark Mellott, chief of the Execution Branch of the Health IT Innovation and Advanced Technology Development Division at the Defense Health Agency, and Navy Cmdr. Leslie Riggs, director of the Navy Blood Program, attended a demonstration of the system at the university in May.
“A partnership between the military and an educational institution such as George Mason University is a way to explore new technologies that may, in the future, help on the battlefield and in military treatment facilities around the world,” said Navy Capt. Roland Fahie, director of the Armed Services Blood Program. “As this partnership develops, it will be interesting to see if we can incorporate research like this into the military blood banking system.”
Duminda Wijesekera, professor of computer science at GMU’s Volgenau School of Engineering and the group leader for the project, said that organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration and the AABB have “gone to great lengths to design tests that ensure the safety of blood,” but “it turns out that safety depends on the pathogens that are around and testing is method dependent.”
This led the GMU team to design an automated system that could document workflow procedures to ensure these safety tests performed at different places in the blood supply chain have been correctly applied, Wijesekera said.
“The software operates in the background of electronic health record systems,” Mellott said. “What we were able to see today in the demo, the software will be able to enforce relevant safety requirements for patients, and verify and automate workflows that are used by health care providers.”
According to Noha Hazzazi, PhD candidate in information technology and one of the lead researchers for the project, the system gathers all of the FDA and AABB safety regulations and as safety standards change, the system grows.
“It will be pushed as a plug-in, so it’s not actually even changing the electronic health record systems,” Hazzazi said. “Currently, a lot of blood banks and a lot of processes in healthcare are manually documented. Even if it’s not manually documented, there are simple databases that capture information and save it. But it’s not really doing anything with that information, which means that information is not linked from one process to another.”
Wijesekera said the team has been working on the system for eight years.
“We started in automating and integrating surgical check lists designed to prevent unintended errors during procedures,” Wijesekera said. “We went from there to ‘dialysis’ workflow automation and blood supply safety was a natural progression from that work.”
While the system is strictly in the research phase, Bo Yu, who is part of GMU’s computer science department research faculty, said the team does have an operational prototype that that can be integrated with existing blood bank systems or commercial products.
“Additionally, our prototype systems are able to extend to other areas,” Yu said. “For example, the consent management that works with many treatments regimes, checks for regulatory compliance and auto-generates consents from inside electronic medical records, biobank data sharing, as well as sensitive data security and privacy preservation.”
Hazzazi said the system could, for example, have several benefits for the ASBP including decreasing maintenance costs, enforcing safety through automation and replacing paper documents with electronic records.
“I can see the value of a system like this for the military blood program,” Riggs said. “The biggest benefit I can see is that it would run in the background of current systems. The military blood program’s electronic health record systems are a little different than those used at the civilian organizations; so having a system that has the potential to run in conjunction with our current systems to look at the inefficiencies that might exist would help us ensure that we are keeping the blood supply as safe as possible.”
In the end, Mellott said the partnership between the blood banking community and educational facilities is something that should continue to be explored.
“Innovation is increasingly coming from industry and academia and we need to continue to develop new partnerships and grow existing ones with academic institutions and federal labs to share knowledge, advance research and solve difficult and important problems for the benefit of the warfighters, beneficiaries and the external community,” Mellott said.
About the Armed Services Blood Program
Since 1962, the Armed Services Blood Program has served as the sole provider of blood for the United States military. As a tri-service organization, the ASBP collects, processes, stores and distributes blood and blood products to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and their families worldwide. As one of four national blood collection organizations trusted to ensure the nation has a safe, potent blood supply, the ASBP works closely with our civilian counterparts by sharing donors on military installations where there are no military blood collection centers and by sharing blood products in times of need to maximize availability of this national treasure. To find out more about the ASBP or to schedule an appointment to donate, please visit
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