With a growing Asian population in the Northwest, there’s an increasing number of Asian patients needing blood transfusions. “Advances in science make it possible to closely match donor blood with patients to reduce the chance of an immune system reaction against a transfusion,” noted Dr. Yanyun Wu, chief medical officer at Bloodworks Northwest. “In some situations, we know the best match can be achieved when donors and patients share a similar ethnic background.”
The immune system has evolved to protect people from pathogens like bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. Cells of the immune system use human leukocyte antigens (HLA) to identify the body’s own cells and tissues — and to detect cells that are “foreign” to the body and potential pathogens. “HLA markers are found on every cell in your body, and your specific HLA markers are inherited from your parents,” Wu said.
Over 15,000 different HLA markers have been identified, though each person has only a few types on their own cells. This means that nature has evolved, so that there are a highly diverse assortment of HLA markers. No matter what kind of pathogen is encountered, someone in the human race will be able to produce an immune response against it.
Patients needing multiple transfusions — perhaps during routine surgery, or for cancer treatment — have a greater risk of HLA immune-system response against transfused blood. This is particularly true for platelets: the small blood cells transfused to prevent and stop bleeding. When a patient’s body has already made antibodies from an earlier transfusion or pregnancy — when they are “sensitized’ against a particular HLA marker — it becomes more challenging to find donated red cells or platelets that match the patient’s specific requirements. HLA markers tend to be similar for people from similar ethnic backgrounds. A patient is likely to find the best match possible, and lower the risk of being attacked by HLA antibodies, with a donor who shares a similar ethnicity.
“Ideally, the community blood supply is best supported by donors who closely reflect the diverse ethnic communities and patients we serve across the region,” Wu said. “It truly takes a community to sustain the best lifesaving blood supply possible.”
Bloodworks Northwest needs donations from people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. If you are healthy and meet the donation requirements, you can be the difference between life and death for a patient in need.
Go to bloodworksnw.org to see if you are eligible, and then make an appointment at schedule.bloodworksnw.org or by calling 800-398-7888.