Best Of EAST #10: MTP With Whole Blood

Here’s one last abstract to consider before the EAST meeting kicks off this afternoon. Every trauma center must have a massive transfusion protocol (MTP). But not every one has access to whole blood. And whole blood is all the rage now for transfusion in the trauma world.

Believe it or not, we must still ask the question “is using whole blood safe?” More than 50 years ago, all we had was whole blood. But we didn’t use it in trauma the way we do today. And we didn’t have the tools then to determine whether there were any adverse effects from its use. Now we do, and we are slowly rediscovering the nuances of using it. Some work has shown that small volumes of whole blood appear to be safe. But there is little information on the safety of using large volumes in MTP.

The group at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland attempted to do this with a quick shot paper to be presented tomorrow morning. They reviewed their experience over a two year period. For the first 18 months, they used standard component therapy (PRBC + plasma + platelets) in their MTP. For the final six months, they used cold-stored uncrossmatched, low-titer group O blood. Any patient who had MTP activated and received even a single unit of blood was included in the study. 

Here are the factoids:

  • 83 patients received component therapy and 42 received whole blood; demographics were the same
  • The component therapy patients received an average of 6 PRBC, 5 plasma, and 0 platelets; the whole blood group received 6.5 units (4 PRBC, 4 plasma, and 1 platelets based on the usual composition of a unit)
  • Plasma:RBC ratio was 0.8:1 for the component group and 0.94:1 in the whole blood group (statistically significant, but not clinically significant, see below)
  • The authors described a component-equivalent unit of product which is not defined. It was 12 for component therapy and 27 for whole blood.
  • There were no differences in 24-hour or 30-day mortality, and no transfusion reactions

The authors concluded that MTP using whole blood is feasible, and that it appeared to be safe and effective. They also commented that it may lead to more balanced resuscitation.

My comment: Alright, this is the last time I’ll mention study power (for a while). If a study does not have the statistical power to show a difference between groups, then seeing no difference means nothing. The absence of a difference does not mean that the two groups are equivalent. And this study of 125 patients is small potatoes for showing any difference in a crude outcome like mortality.

Besides having a small number of subjects, the average number of units given was low for an MTP. For most trauma centers, this was just over one cooler of products. Although ISS was 29, the patients don’t sound like they had huge blood replacement requirements, so it’s no wonder that mortality was the same between the two groups.

And finally, the statement about more balanced resuscitation is open to debate. The difference between 0.8 units of plasma and 0.94 units is 35cc per unit of red cells given, a little over 1 tablespoon. It’s hard to believe that this would ever make a difference clinically.

To those who read only the title or the conclusion of an abstract (or paper for that matter), beware. The devil is in the details. This study is a good start toward addressing the question posed, but needs several hundred more subjects (and a lot more blood products given) to close in on an answer.

Reference: Massive transfusion with whole blood is safe compared to component therapy. EAST Annual Assembly Quick Shot #8, 2020.

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog