WOMEN could be given back their own 'recycled' blood lost during childbirth and avoid transfusions – in a pioneering Cornish study that is attracting worldwide interest.
Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT) blood conservation team has been awarded £50,000 to carry out research into cell salvage during 'normal' deliveries.
The technology is already used in operating theatres, but has not been used during labour.
But all that looks set to change.
Consultant anaesthetist Catherine Ralph hopes to launch the 12-month project in December, with its results eagerly awaited by medics across the globe.
She said: "Our work here is innovative and I am confident in what we are doing.
"It has never been done before and the world is watching. I have already heard from teams in Australia, Japan, the USA, and Europe, all keen to hear what we are doing and eager to see what our study shows."
The team will look at whether blood lost from women who have given birth can be collected, cleaned and given back to them – benefiting women, avoiding transfusions and conserving blood supplies.
The need for such research was highlighted recently when a small number of women received 30 per cent of the total blood used during a year in the hospital's maternity unit. Every year about six women suffer a major haemorrhage during labour at Treliske, while many more need treatment for blood loss.
Dr Ralph added: "Traditionally, vaginal blood is perceived as contaminated and there are no case reports to lead us. My aim is to be able to say we can collect it and this is how. I want to be able to show the blood isn't contaminated and is suitable for re-infusion. The next stage, perhaps the next study, would be to look at re-infusing.
"We are not able to use cell salvage on these women currently and despite our active blood conservation measures, they are likely to become anaemic and need a blood transfusion.
"If we could offer some of these women their own recycled blood back then we could reduce the need for donor blood transfusion."
The study funded by the National Institute of Academic Anaesthesia will not include re-infusing women with the blood.
The trust has been using cell salvage for women having Caesarean sections for the past three years. It is now used in 90 per cent of cases.
Susan Bracefield, from Newquay, had cell salvage following her planned Caesarean and said: "I had been anaemic for a lot of the pregnancy and felt grotty. When I came in I was given a leaflet about cell salvage and the staff explained what it was about. I thought it was brilliant and felt it must be better having your own blood back."