Health and Human Services officials visit Walter Reed Donor Center for pathogen reduction demonstration
Dr. Karen Scott (center), chief medical officer for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services, visits the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to review the first U.S. Department of Defense pathogen reduction technology. (Courtesy photo)
DR. Karen Scott, chief medical officer for the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, recently to review the first U.S. Department of Defense pathogen reduction system.
Navy Capt. Roland Fahie, director of the Armed Services Blood Program, hosted Scott and three members of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health team – James Berger, Richard Henry and Debbie Seem – who coordinate HHS activities related to blood and tissue safety. Their efforts include “actions to address the effects of emerging infections such as Zika and Chikungunya on the safety of and availability of blood and tissue products,” Scott said.
Over the course of the day, Fahie and members of the Armed Services Blood Bank Center took Scott, Berger, Henry and Seem through the entire process: from platelet collection to the demonstration of the pathogen reduction process.
“The focus of our visit was to learn more about pathogen reduction technology and see it in practice,” Scott said. “This was the first time for me and I was interested to learn more about this technology and also to see how the Armed Services are leading the nation in its use. I was particularly interested to see if our vision of a future where pathogen reduction technology would eliminate the need for individual screening tests to ensure a safe blood supply is a realistic goal.”
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December 2014, the process of pathogen inactivation reduces the risk of both known and emerging pathogens in the blood supply, Fahie said. It works by using a combination of the chemical amotosalen and ultraviolet light to treat the unit. After the product is collected, the amotosalen is added and immediately binds to the DNA or RNA of anything, whether it is a pathogen, such as bacteria, or a virus.
After the chemical binds to the DNA or RNA, a UV light is directed on the unit for approximately five to seven minutes to irreversibly bind the amotosalen to the DNA or RNA.
“It creates proactive safety measures that we can use to help combat blood borne disease such as the Zika virus, Dengue and Chikungunya. It also addresses bacterial contamination and reduces the risk of transmitting deadly infections through platelet products. Essentially, it inactivates the pathogens and stops them from replication. It renders the pathogen harmless, therefore resulting in a safer blood supply for our patients,” explained Fahie.
On June 20, HHS agreed to provide more than $48 million to fund pathogen reduction technologies. According to Scott, the knowledge and experience she gained while visiting the ASBBC made this announcement have an “even more powerful impact.”
“I think the technology is very exciting,” Scott said. “But it was also very helpful to understand the current limitations as well as the opportunities this technology presents. We can only move forward productively if we understand the barriers that exist and actively work to address them.”
Scott said that the information she and her team gained will “contribute to ongoing deliberations within HHS, and with blood industry and clinical leadership, on ways to ensure a continued adequate and safe blood supply.
During her visit, Dr. Scott participated in a round table with the medical center’s leadership that discussed the capabilities and the challenges of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“In these efforts, we look forward to continued collaboration with the Armed Services Blood Program Office and further opportunities for shared learning,” she said.
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