Enric Contreras

Hospital services director of the Catalan Blood and Tissue Bank

'Healthy people have a civic duty to give blood'

'We always say that we’re a bank of biological treasures'

Is Catalonia covered in terms of its blood needs?

We generally cover our needs for 1,000 daily donations and we couldn’t say there’s a shortage of blood. We consider a blood reserve for eight days normal, although there are some blood groups that at times may have lower reserves (at the time of this interview, this was true of group A - there was only enough blood for three days, below desirable levels).

Are citizens aware that donations are needed?

I think so, or at least we at the Blood and Tissue Bank try to give out that message, which in the end is very simple: there are people who need blood to survive and the only way to get it is through voluntary and altruistic donations by healthy people. Fortunately, there is a lot of solidarity in Catalonia and a lot of associations promote giving blood. The organisations linked to the Catalan Federation of Blood Donors help us a lot and give us a lot of support. And, in general, people respond. And obviously, we also have all the support we need from the local authorities, there has never been a shortage of blood because of the crisis, for example.

In the eighties there was some alarm surrounding transfusions because of AIDS, I imagine that safety measures have increased to a great extent.

Laboratory testing has become much more reliable and haemovigilance reports for Catalonia, which flag up any adverse effects related to transfusions, have not detected any transmission of infectious diseases for many years.

How have new technologies changed the work you do?

For example, they allow us to maintain very close contact with the other blood banks for the exchange of rare blood units. We’re now all connected to the network. We’ve also changed the way we send messages to donors. Now a donor can download an application and know where there’s a blood bank or the nearest extraction unit according to their geolocation. All this helps communication with the donor and, therefore, our work.

But you’re not only a blood bank...

We always say that we’re a bank of biological treasures. As well as all the blood products, we have tissues, the most important of which are eye, bone, tendon, vascular tissue, heart valves... We also have the umbilical cord bank. Blood from the umbilical cord is rich in stem cells that are capable of generating blood cells and are used in bone marrow transplants. And there’s also the breast milk bank. But most of our donations are blood, of course.

What’s the best argument for convincing future donors to give blood?

That we only have blood thanks to the people who, out of solidarity, dedicate some of their time to making this donation so that other people can have a little more of a normal life, or even to save lives. I think that if you’re fortunate enough to be a healthy person, it’s your civic duty to give blood to help people who aren’t as lucky as you are, being one of the healthy ones. That’s why we at the blood bank thank all donors around the country that make it possible for us to have these stored biological treasures that we can give to those who need it.

Can blood be manufactured?

In fact, here and in other centres where research is being conducted, researchers have managed to make red blood cells from stem cells. But the problem is obtaining the large quantity required to meet the needs of society. It would seem that the way to respond to the challenge of creating artificial blood will be to work with human stem cells and bioreactors, but for now that’s still a long way off.

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