New method for freezing avian red blood cells on the horizon

Birds, like people, sometimes require blood transfusions. But in many instances, unless an avian donor is readily available, accessing blood is impossible due to the challenges associated with storing the species’ red blood cells. (The red blood cells of birds have short life spans and high metabolic rates.)

Researchers from Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Massachusetts Medical School hope to change that. They have found that a substance called dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) shows promise as a potential cryopreservant for freezing avian blood.

Their study was published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research on June 15.

The research team investigated whether a hydroxyethyl starch (HES), a substance that has been successful in storing human and canine red blood cells, would be effective at freezing avian blood. They compared methods that both slowly and quickly froze the blood using various concentrations of HES along with specific concentrations of glycerol and DMSO.

The researchers found that HES may not be a suitable cryopreservant for avian red blood cells but that DMSO maintains the cells’ viability after thawing.

“Birds are susceptible to various causes of blood loss from trauma and toxin exposure. This research is important because without a way to preserve blood, it is difficult to treat pet and wild birds with life-threatening anemia or blood loss,” said Jennifer E. Graham, DVM, an assistant professor of zoological companion animal medicine at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the paper’s first author.

“If blood banks are not available for particular species, alternative methods of blood storage including cryopreservation could provide a solution.”

Graham said that further studies on DMSO’s efficacy and safety are needed before blood stored with the substance can be administered in both wild and pet birds needing a blood transfusion.

Photo credit: © iStock/Ralwel

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