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Determining Blood’s Expiration Date

Shawn Mailo (L) and Ali Athar (R)
Shawn Mailo (L) and Ali Athar (R)

Hospitals and blood banks routinely discard blood donations after 42 days. But this expiration date, first proposed in the 1950s, is only a rough estimate of how long blood can be stored. Does all blood really go bad in that time?

Ali Athar, a UC San Diego graduate in chemical engineering, and Shawn Mailo, a master’s student in bioengineering, are working on a prototype called the Stored Blood Quality Diagnostic Device that may offer a better way of testing the shelf life of blood. Within five minutes, the device would sample a drop of stored blood to measure how much oxygen it can hold and how fast and easily it can transport oxygen. It will also look at whether the red blood cells are still in shape to squeeze through the tiniest veins, said Mailo, who also earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from UC San Diego. “We believe that based on these measurements, we can tell how well the blood will function in the body.”

Every unit of blood used in a hospital costs roughly $1000, including operational and administrative costs, so their device could be a money saver as well, Athar explained.

By judging the quality of blood ahead of time, hospitals could prevent the need for repeat transfusions. The device might also alleviate blood bank shortages by keeping the banks from prematurely discarding good blood.

The two have found an essential group of mentors through the Jacobs School’s von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, which helps UC San Diego researchers commercialize their discoveries. As part of the program, they have received funding for lab equipment and advice as well as introductions from a venture capital expert and a regulatory con- sultant. “It’s really been critical for us,” Athar said. “Without them, we probably would be lost in a sea of paperwork and have no idea how to get started.”

The researchers hope to finish their prototype by September 2014, with an eye to releasing a commercial device in two to three years.

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