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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to provide more than $48 million to Cerus Corp and the U.S. division of Japan’s Terumo Corp to fund pathogen reduction technologies (PRT) to help reduce the chance of the Zika virus and other blood borne diseases from being transmitted through the blood supply.

According to a June 20 Reuters article, “HHS has said that both systems are proven to reduce pathogens in blood components.”

“This is a meaningful improvement to blood safety for both the military and civilian blood programs,” said Navy Capt. Roland Fahie, director of the Armed Services Blood Program (ASBP). “While our current screening tests are certainly effective in reducing transfusion-transmitted infections, they are mostly reactive. This technology creates proactive safety measures that can be used by collection facilities. PRT has unlimited potential for making blood products safer, and it is our mission to ensure a safe blood supply globally for our warfighters and their beneficiaries.”

In May, the ASBP implemented its first pathogen reduction initiative. Deployed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s (WRNMMC) apheresis section of the Armed Services Blood Bank Center in Bethesda, Md., platelets are currently being treated post-collection at the donor center with the new pathogen reduction technology. It is the first and only Department of Defense blood collection facility to use the technology in daily operations.

The Food and Drug Administration has already approved Cerus’s Intercept technology to treat platelets and plasma. The contract with Cerus will be a trial to show that it can also reduce pathogens in red blood cells. Further, the funding includes money to help evaluate the blood supply in Puerto Rico – an area that has been hit hard by the Zika outbreak.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Hoiles, chief of blood services at the WRNMMC, said 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 and 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, stopping them from replication – essentially rendering the pathogen harmless.

“The process of pathogen inactivation reduces the risk of both known and emerging pathogens in our blood supply, which results in safer blood for our patients,” Hoiles said.

Hoiles also said that the new technology allows the Armed Services Blood Bank Center to release these products into available inventory a full day earlier than before, which means there is a greater likelihood that they will be transfused.

“Pathogen reduction aligns with the Armed Services Blood Program’s mission of providing safe blood and blood products to warfighters and their families,” Hoiles said. “Implementing pathogen reduction provides a safer product for our patients and aligns with our aim to be a global leader in blood banking.”

As it relates to Zika in particular, Fahie said the funding approval is a great step forward, especially for the military blood program.

“The military is a global entity,” Fahie said. “We have people stationed all over the world, including places where emerging pathogens like Zika is prevalent. Therefore, the more research that we can conduct to combat viruses that pose a threat to our blood supply, the better off we are. This will help blood collection agencies in the U.S. move closer to having this technology operational in a widespread area, and that is a tremendous step in getting our blood programs to the point where we have a significant decrease in transfusion-transmitted infections. It’s hard to say what this means for deferrals in the future, but it’s certainly a 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.

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