Saturday, April 26, 2008

Question authority, or assumptions, or both.

'There is virtually no high quality study in surgery, or intensive care - outside of when you are bleeding to death - that shows that blood transfusion is beneficial, and many show that it is bad for you.'
Gavin Murphy, Cardiac Surgeon
At the start of the course I think I mentioned that the interesting part of teaching biology for me was what we don't know. The dangerous side to that is the things that we think we know, but don't.

There's an interesting report out of the UK this week which is adding to a set of studies suggesting that, except in the case of emergencies, blood transfusions may do more harm than good. Wow. I mean if you watch ER or Grey's Anatomy or any one of the other medical shows it seems that every patient gets 'another two pints on the rapid infuser' (whatever that is). The danger from blood transfusions is not just a risk of infection but something to do with the chemical changes that occur in ageing blood, the impact of blood on the immune system or the blood's ability to deliver oxygen. For example, within hours of being collected red cells become stiff and less able to squeeze through narrow capilliaries.

As a public service announcement I should say that numerous people still need blood transfusions in life and death situations and products derived from blood (eg clotting factors) and so this is not an excuse to stop donating blood. You do donate blood don't you? And whilst you are at it make sure your driving license has that little organ donor sticker on it AND that your relatives are aware of your wishes. I feel obliged to do this since they won't let me give blood anymore - the risk of me being infected with mad cow disease is apparently too high......

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