Sexually active gay men have been given approval to donate blood for research purposes in a new program developed by the Canadian Blood Service and the University of British Columbia.
Instead of using the blood that is donated for transfusions, the blood is made available for medical students to conduct research provided the research clears the ethics board.
Canada, like many countries, currently enforces a ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) giving blood, unless they abstain from sex for five years.
A similar rule was amended in New Zealand in December 2014 and changed to 12 months which brought them into line with Australia.
Donor deferral through behavioural screening is a common mechanism of blood safety worldwide. According to the New Zealand Blood Service around 20% of first time prospective donors in New Zealand are deferred for various reasons not just the MSM ban.
Speaking to CBC News before the Rainbow Donor Clinic was conducted last month, Dr Tanya Petraszko said the idea to use MSM donated blood came from a community member who was deferred from donating blood for a transfusion.
“He was made aware of our clinic, the netCAD clinic, where all deferred donors can donate blood for research,” Dr Petraszko said.
“He took it upon himself to hold a rainbow clinic to raise awareness in the men who have sex with men community.”
Dr Petraszko said there are numerous uses for this type of blood.
“This could be used for cancer therapy, for cancer research, looking at the kinds of proteins we have on red blood cells, how the immune system works — all sorts of clinical and applied research.
“This is what Canadian Blood Services thinks is a first step. It’s certainly still very restrictive.”
She suggests following this trial, there is a chance the MSM blood donor ban could be relaxed further in Canada.
“What Health Canada wants us to do is demonstrate that in the first two years we have not seen an increased risk of viruses in the blood supply, so Canadian Blood Services is working on that.”