Study aims to make more gay, bisexual men become eligible blood donors

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Thursday, January 13, 2022
Study aims to make more gay, bisexual men eligible blood donors
The Advance Study is underway in areas including San Francisco and Oakland, aiming to ease restrictions gay and bisexual men face to donate blood.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As we reported earlier this week, the Red Cross has declared a nationwide blood shortage crisis.

Locally, blood collector Vitalant says that in the San Francisco Bay Area there has been an 11% drop in its active donor base in the last 12 months compared to the previous year.

But despite the need, many gay and bisexual men are still prevented from donating blood because of an FDA restriction.

In 1983 during the AIDS epidemic, the FDA enacted a policy that kept men who had sex with men from ever donating blood.

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Not only are we dealing with a pandemic, but the American Red Cross says we're in a blood crisis that may put patients at risk.

Since then, the policy has somewhat changed first in 2015, allowing men who had sex with men to donate blood if they had not had sex with another man for 12 months. Most recently the policy was revised in April of 2020.

"The current regulation is that any gay or bisexual man or man who has sex with men, who were sexually active and has had sex in the last three months, is not eligible to donate blood," Dr. Brian Custer, Vice President of Research and Scientific programs at Vitalent Research Institute.

Still, more change is being called for.

The American Red Cross in a statement says in part:

"The American Red Cross seeks to build an inclusive environment that embraces diversity for all those who engage with our lifesaving mission. As such the Red Cross believes blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation and are committed to working with partners toward achieving this goal.

RELATED: Philadelphia meteorologist advocates change to FDA blood donation policy impacting LGBTQ+ community

The FDA also sent a statement addressing the current policy saying in part: "Developing the scientific information that is needed to further change blood donor policies does take time and effort. The FDA has made forward progress in this regard and has been actively engaged in re-examining the issue of blood donor deferral for men who have sex with men (MSM), taking into account the current body of scientific information, and we are considering the possibility of pursuing alternative strategies that maintain blood safety."

They point to a pilot program called Advanced Study (Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility).

The Red Cross, Vitalant and OneBlood are participants.

It's underway in areas across the nation including San Francisco and Oakland.

It aims to lead to significant change to the current FDA policy.

RELATED: Red Cross in desperate need of donors: 'The need for blood is constant'

"The objective of the study is to try to collect data that will go to the FDA in the hopes that we can move from the current three-month deferral for men who have sex with men, to an individual risk-based approach so that it wouldn't be a blanket deferral anymore," Dr. Custer who is a lead researcher said, "Instead, it would be each individual assessed for their own eligibility to donate blood."

The study done here in the Bay area needs more participants. Through July of 2022, they're enrolling men ages 18-39.

They'll ask questions over a series of visits and collect a blood sample.

While many gay and bisexual men can't do much now to help with the blood shortage, Dr. Custer says participating in the study may help in the future.

"If you are not eligible to donate, but want to see things like the current policy, change with respect to men or have sex with men," he said, "Then come find out about the ADVANCE study, participate in that."

To find out more about the study and to participate, click here.