Collaborators from URMC, RIT Design a Point of Care, ABO Blood Typing Device

Jun. 23, 2021

Do you know your blood type? In the event of a traumatic injury when you need a blood transfusion, that information can mean the difference between life and death.

For patients who need to receive blood urgently, it’s common practice to be transfused with Type O-negative blood, also known as the universal donor type. This saves lives, but researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center say receiving blood that’s an exact match is even better.

Majed Refaai, M.D. and fellow URMC clinicians have long researched the pros and cons of relying heavily on Type O, citing risk of long-term damage due to prolonged, unnecessary exposure to certain anti-A and/or anti-B antibodies.

A glass slide comprises part of the device, which can be used to quickly determine a patient's blood type.

To help solve this problem, Refaai and engineer Steven Day, Ph.D. of Rochester Institute of Technology have teamed up design a new device that can quickly report a patient’s blood type using a small drop of blood. Their patent is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Patent Office and must then receive FDA approval. If approved, the designers hope to see it used in ambulances and by EMS personnel in a variety of settings.

How it Works

In a process that takes between 20-30 seconds, a pinprick of blood is applied to the surface of the device, which is about the size of a cell phone, and runs down onto a microchip that can identify the presence or absence of A and/or B antigens on red blood cells, which determines a person’s ABO blood type.

Whenever a trauma patient is rushed to the hospital, the process of identifying their blood type happens on site. It’s a manual process done by a certified medical technologist in a lab setting that can take up to 20 minutes to complete from the time a blood sample is received. This is why most of these patients are initially given O blood to sustain them. 

Universal blood transfusions might be a suitable short term solution, but Refaai and others have reported that exact-matched blood is safest for patients longer-term.

“If someone is Type A, for instance, is transfusion-dependent (as in cancer patients) and are receiving O repeatedly, that cumulatively causes harm,” said Refaai. “We have been studying this further to see if this is because of transfusion.”

Type O blood contains A and B antibodies, and if you have a non-O blood type, your body contains A and/or B antigens. In some cases, the combination of anti-A or anti-B antibodies and A and/or B antigens can lead to red blood cell (RBC) hemolysis. This may cause kidney failure or death.

Having a tool that can quickly identify your blood type in any setting not only removes these safety risks, but could also help hospitals utilize their blood supply based on reliable information when it comes to having enough inventory of all different blood types.

This project is just one example of how clinicians and engineers can join efforts to help fix problems. Both Refaai and Day have research labs and crossed paths while the latter was researching left ventricular assist device (LVAD) pumps to evaluate how to prevent damage caused by improper pressure. He met Refaai through URMC Cardiology, and the two have formed a grassroots collaboration ever since.

“Engineers have tools and techniques and methods to help solve problems, since that’s what we’re trained to do,” said Day. “Clinicians have great problems, and they’re highly motivating because they’re related to human health.”

In the age of big data and health tracking, he added that this is just one way to help bring bedside care into the modern age.  

“These days, we have health apps that let you know what your heart rate was yesterday at 2 p.m. but we may not know our blood type,” he said.