Blood group matching for patients with inherited blood disorders

Patients living with inherited blood disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia, who rely on regular blood transfusions, can now have a test to identify blood which most closely matches their own.

There are many different blood groups. Some are well known, such as the ABO system. However, there are 300 known blood groups, often known as minor blood groups. If patients receive blood with a minor blood group that doesn’t match their own, they can develop antibodies which make it more difficult to find blood they can safely receive. 

This is a real problem for people who may need to receive many transfusions over their lifetime as they can become more unwell while they wait for a suitable transfusion.

The new programme, led by NHS Blood and Transplant in collaboration with NHS England, can improve care for patients with inherited blood disorders – the better the match, the better the treatment.

Patients can now give a blood sample at their next routine appointment, which will be sent for blood group genotyping – DNA based testing of extended blood groups. Similarly to testing at Imperial College Healthcare for kidney patients, the blood will also be tested for potential stem cell matches, which may lead to a future cure for the diseases.

Commenting on the new test, consultant haematologist, Dr Steven Okoli, said: “This test represents an innovation to improve the care and treatment of patients with sickle cell disease. While it is clear we need to better understand the disease and find new medicine to treat it, patients who require blood transfusions in the meantime can have better treatment if they have been matched for blood group. 

"I would encourage all patients with sickle cell to ask the doctors and nurses who look after them for more information about this programme.”

If you would like to find out more about blood group genotyping, please visit the NHS Blood and Transplant website or ask your clinical team.