Blood Transfusion and Iron Chelation

Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center performs thousands of blood transfusions each year, and has expertise in treating iron overload, the leading side effect of chronic blood transfusions. We also provide transfusional iron overload evaluations to ensure that children receive the most effective and appropriate transfusion and iron chelation regimens over time.

Our patients have access to one of the largest and most recognized transfusion centers in New England at Boston Children’s Hospital. One reason for the excellent reputation is our internal blood bank where we collect and prepare blood. Maintaining a blood bank internally provides several benefits for both patients and physicians:

  • We collect a vast majority of our blood and platelets onsite as opposed to procuring it from outside sources.
  • Many of our blood donors are longtime donors whose lives have been touched by pediatric cancer and/or blood disorders. 
  • Small children have different needs than adults when it comes to transfusions.
  • Because our patients are predominantly children, our blood bank is designed and staffed with children’s needs in mind. For example, split units of blood can reduce donor exposure in small patients.
  • We use advanced DNA technology that allows for sophisticated blood type matching through a process called molecular typing.

Continue reading to learn more about blood transfusions and iron chelation or visit the Blood Disorders Center to learn about our expertise in treating children and young adults with non-malignant blood disorders.

    A blood transfusion is the process of transferring blood or one of its components from one person to another. Whole blood is only rarely transfused nowadays. Individual components of blood that are typically transfused include

    • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body
    • Plasma, the fluid in blood that carries blood cells throughout the body
    • Platelets, which control bleeding by forming blood clots

    Blood transfusions are required for many conditions:

    Before a child receives a blood transfusion, the blood is carefully tested and cross-matched to ensure compatibility with the patient. The transfusion is given through a needle or catheter (a thin, flexible tube) inserted in a vein. The child’s temperature, blood pressure and heart rate are monitored throughout the transfusion, which generally takes a few hours to complete.

    Some children, especially those with sickle cell disease, require an exchange transfusion in which the patient’s red blood cells are removed and replaced with red cells from a donor.

    Children whose medical condition requires chronic transfusions can develop iron overload, which can damage internal organs such as the liver, pancreas, heart and endocrine glands. Dana-Farber/Boston Children's can treat children with iron load with the use of iron chelation drugs. Specialized MRI monitoring of body iron by Ferriscan® and T2* techniques for the liver and heart are available at our center.

    Dana-Farber/Boston Children's experts tailor iron chelation strategies from the drugs currently available and approved, and we participate in research studies of novel chelation agents to bring better choices to our patients in the future.