ASBP: Update: Pathogen Reduction Live at Walter Reed
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Update: Pathogen Reduction Live at Walter Reed

By Jessica Pellegrini, ASBP Staff Writer
In May, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s apheresis section of the Armed Services Blood Bank Center in Bethesda, Md., began treating platelets collected at the donor center with the new pathogen reduction technology.

According to Navy Capt. Roland Fahie, Armed Services Blood Program director, who was at the donor center April 27 for a demonstration, the new system offers a meaningful improvement to blood safety for the military blood program.

“Our program will move forward with this technology in our collection or transfusion centers in the future,” Fahie said. “This technology has unlimited potential for making our blood products safer.”

“Pathogen reduced platelet products were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help reduce risk of transfusion-transmitted infections such as the Zika virus, Dengue and Chikungunya,” Fahie continued. “It also addresses an additional concern, that of bacterial contamination, which reduces the risk of transmitting potentially deadly infections through platelet products.”

“This is a new technology that is stopping the growth of bacteria,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Angeles, a laboratory technician at the ASBBC. “This is more efficient than what we had before. The sooner the product is available for the patient, the better.”

Navy Cmdr. Leslie Riggs, director of the Navy Blood Program, said the ASBBC is the only military donor center to have the technology as of right now, but other Department of Defense locations will acquire this technology in the future.  

“I would say that each facility has a different volume and this facility can act as a guide for the other centers,” Angeles said. “This will be a guide for them to follow; but safety is the main concern we have here.”

The technology’s ability to prevent the spread of blood borne pathogens of both known and unknown diseases is one way it will help improve the safety of the blood supply, Riggs said.

“Our current screening tests have certainly lowered the risk of transfusion-transmitted infections, but often times these tests are reactive. Pathogen reduction, on the other hand, is more of a proactive safety measure,” Riggs said. “Because the process can neutralize pathogens whether or not they have been identified as a risk to the blood supply, puts us one step ahead of the pathogens.”  

According to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Hoiles, chief of blood services at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the system uses a combination of the chemical amotosalen and ultraviolet light to treat the unit. When the platelet product is collected, amotosalen is added and immediately binds to the DNA or RNA of anything, whether it is a pathogen, such as bacteria, or a virus such as HIV.

After the chemical binds to the DNA or RNA, a UV light directed on the collection for approximately five to seven minutes irreversibly binds the amotosalen to the DNA or RNA thereby inactivating the pathogens and stopping them from replication — essentially rendering the pathogen harmless. The unit is then filtered to remove the extra chemical and shipped to the hospital.

“These products are on the cutting edge of technology and allow us to provide the safest blood products currently available, to our patients,” Hoiles said.

Riggs said that the technology can also help the military blood program combat transfusion-transmitted graph-versus-host disease, a complication that can occur when newly transplanted donor cells attack the transplant recipient's body. Pathogen reduced platelets can now be used instead of the gamma irradiation technique that was used previously.  

Additionally, it also improves the shelf-life of the blood product by an extra day.

“In order to deduct bacterial contamination, you have to culture these products; but with pathogen reduction, you no longer have to culture the bacteria. Instead, you can immediately release the product. With that extra day of shelf-life, there’s more opportunity for the product to be used in patient care.”

According to Fahie, this technology is already being used throughout Europe and has been proven to prevent bacterial contamination in their products. Switzerland, for example, transfused more than 130,000 units of pathogen reduced platelets from 2010 to 2014 with zero transfusion-transmitted infections.

“Having this new technology operational at one of our donor centers is a tremendous step in getting the military blood program to the point where we have a significant decrease in transfusion-transmitted infections,” Fahie said. “Exactly what this will mean for travel restrictions and other deferrals remains to be seen, but this is certainly a great step in the right direction.”

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 To interact directly with ASBP staff members, see more photos or get the latest news, follow @militaryblood on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Pinterest.  Find the drop. Donate.

See more photos from the demonstration in our ASBP Tech Flickr album.

The Armed Services Blood Program is a proud recipient of the Army Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware Public Affairs award.