The UK has published guidelines on the use of autologous blood transfusions where patients are given back their own blood, which they earlier donated in advance of a planned operation (BMJ, 11 December 1993).
Currently, under 1 per cent of blood used in Britain is autologous, although the figure in the US is around 6 per cent. Patients' blood will be able to be stored in its liquid state for up to 42 days.
The guidelines stress that unused autologous blood should not be given to any other patients: "Donors of preoperatively donated blood will, on average, be less healthy than routine blood donors, and using their blood would be contrary to the philosophy of the British blood transfusion service, which is to use blood from healthy donors."
The guidelines also warn that careful assessment should be made of patients in advance of blood being donated.
Meanwhile in the US, a hospital in Pennsylvania is giving new parents the chance to store the blood from their baby's umbilical cord. The child would be able to receive its own blood cells if he later develops cancer and needs stem cell transplantation (The Lancet, 4 December1993).
Biocyte, the biotechnology company making the offer, admits in its promotional literature that treatments using cord blood stem cells are still experimental.
Nevertheless, the company believes that this service could possibly benefit the several thousand children in the US who develop types of cancer supposedly treatable in this manner. Interested parents will find the service costs an initial $1500, plus an annual storage fee of $75.