Fresh versus old red cell transfusions: what have the recent clinical trials found?

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Purpose of review

Red blood cell transfusion is a common treatment for anaemia worldwide, but concerns continue to be raised about adverse effects of cellular blood components, which are biological products. One hypothesis for the adverse effects associated with blood transfusion is the harmful effects of storage on red cells that have been demonstrated in laboratory and animal studies. Over the past few years, a number of more significant randomized controlled trials comparing ‘fresh’ versus ‘older’ blood have been published in an attempt to address the clinical consequences of storage age, with two further large trials ongoing.

Recent findings

These recent trials enrolled approximately 4000 participants across a variety of populations – cardiac surgical, critically ill, paediatric and acute hospitalized in-patients. All trials achieved statistically significant separation of red cell storage duration between both groups. The results of all these trials have found no clinical benefit to using fresher red cells when compared with older or standard-issue red cells. However, certain subgroups of patients either receiving red cells stored at more extreme ages of storage or those with additional risks for impaired microcirculations (critically ill elderly, severe sepsis and major haemorrhage) were either underrepresented or not included in these trials.


At present, on the basis of recent trials, there is no indication for blood transfusion services to implement preferential utilization of fresher red cell units.

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