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The Blood Center's Reference Laboratory is a highly specialized department that deals with all levels of transfusion testing. It can perform a test as simple as a basic ABO typing, or as complex as multiple red blood cell antibody identifications.
The Reference Laboratory's clientele consists of hospitals, other blood centers, dialysis centers, outpatient surgery centers, and home health care agencies. It is staffed 24 hours a day, seven-days a week to handle any type of case.
The Reference Laboratory is stocked with rare reagents and anti-sera. These reagents and anti-sera are used to help determine which type of blood is compatible for patients with rare blood types, or for patients who exhibit an unusual combination of antibodies against certain red blood cell antigens*.
The Reference Laboratory keeps a frozen stock of extremely rare blood units that can be thawed and shipped to hospitals that have a patient in need. These units can be kept in a frozen state for up to ten years. While this is not the preferred storage method for blood, it offers a viable alternative for patients that have no other option. In addition to its frozen inventory, the Reference Lab is also networked with other blood centers across the country to help locate units of blood for those special patients. The Reference Laboratory can also store units of blood for patients with extremely rare blood types in case they ever need them in the future.
The Reference Laboratory also works with companies that manufacture the test reagents used by other blood centers across the world.
*Antigens are normal proteins and sugars that coat the surface of red blood cells. When someone comes in contact with one of these antigens that they do not possess on their own red blood cells, then their immune system will interpret the antigen as being foreign and will produce antibodies against it. The more antibodies a person has against red blood cell antigens, the harder it is to find a compatible unit for that patient. If someone is given a unit of blood that contains antigens that they have antibodies against, then that person could have a transfusion reaction resulting in fever, hives, a drop in blood pressure, shock, organ failure, respiratory problems, or even death.