Today is WHO World Blood Donor Day where donors are celebrated for their life-saving gifts. Access to blood is vital for many treatments, and every day all around the world donors unselfishly help to ensure that safe and sufficient blood supplies are available.
Technological innovation has greatly improved transportation and storage of blood. Here plastic plays a key role. Today’s blood bags are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as vinyl, and it is obvious that this material outperforms the glass containers that kept the blood in the past. Just think about the difference in robustness, which is a question about life-and-death. Imagine a nurse drops a blood container with a rare blood type in an emergency situation. If the container is made of glass it will shatter, leaving the patient without the needed blood. The plastic-based container remains intact.
The robustness of PVC blood bags first proved its worth during the Korean War, saving the lives of thousands of soldiers. Today drones deliver blood in areas with poor road infrastructure, for instance in Rwanda. This is only possible because the PVC blood bags can withstand being dropped from the air as can be seen in the video below.
Another key aspect is handling of the blood from the donor to the patient. Also here PVC is unsurpassed. PVC blood bags ensure a shelf life of 42 days, which can be crucial for rare blood types. These blood bags have also improved cancer patients’ chances of survival by enabling doctors to separate platelets from blood during chemotherapy. Moreover, PVC blood bags allow for the highest sterilisation techniques and can even be frozen.
As indicated above, PVC has helped achieve major medical breakthroughs. However, most of the PVC blood bags are currently made flexible using the phthalate DEHP. However, PVC blood bags without phthalates of concern are just around the corner. Two of PVCMed Alliance’s member companies have helped develop DEHP-free blood bags, which effectively meet the high standard criteria for collection and storage of blood. Read more here and here. Both new plasticisers are included in the revised European Pharmacopeia. The result will most likely be a new breakthrough for PVC-based medical devices, as it is indeed possible to replace DEHP while keeping the polymer’s unique technical properties and cost-effectiveness.