Real Age: Red Blood Cell Aging During Storage

Colleen G. Koch, Andra I. Duncan, Priscilla Figueroa, Lu Dai, Daniel I. Sessler, Steven M. Frank, Paul M. Ness, Tomislav Mihaljevic, Eugene H. Blackstone

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: During cold storage, some red blood cell (RBC) units age more rapidly than others. Yet, the Food and Drug Administration has set a uniform storage limit of 42 days. Objectives of this review are to present evidence for an RBC storage lesion and suggest that functional measures of stored RBC quality—which we call real age—may be more appropriate than calendar age. Methods: During RBC storage, biochemical substances and byproducts accumulate and RBC shape alters. Factors that influence the rate of degradation include donor characteristics, bio-preservation conditions, and vesiculation. Better understanding of markers of RBC quality may lead to standardized, quantifiable, and operationally practical measures to improve donor selection, assess quality of an RBC unit, improve storage conditions, and test efficacy of the transfused product. Results: The conundrum is that clinical trials of younger versus older RBC units have not aligned with in vitro aging data; that is, the units transfused were not old enough. In vitro changes are considerable beyond 28 to 35 days, and average storage age for older transfused units was 14 to 21 days. Conclusions: RBC product real age varies by donor characteristics, storage conditions, and biological changes during storage. Metrics to measure temporal changes in quality of the stored RBC product may be more appropriate than the 42-day expiration date. Randomized trials and observational studies are focused on average effect, but, in the evolving age of precision medicine, we must acknowledge that vulnerable populations and individuals may be harmed by aging blood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)973-980
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Thoracic Surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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