The research objective of this award is to develop mathematical models to determine an optimal screening strategy to eliminate pathogens from the blood supply. Blood products are essential for many medical treatments, and because many dangerous pathogens can be transmitted through blood products, blood screening is a vital medical service. For each pathogen, there are often multiple FDA-approved screening tests from which to choose, each having different characteristics (e.g., false-positive and false negative probabilities and cost). Thus, the set of screening tests, testing strategies (e.g., pooled versus individual testing), and decision rules (to classify blood as "safe" based on test outcomes) must be determined to minimize the risk of a transfusion-transmitted infection. This research will result in novel mathematical models and effective solution methodologies to determine an optimal screening strategy. Considerations include the amount of pathogen-free blood falsely discarded through screening, subpopulation specific and uncertain infection rates and test performance parameters, co-infection rates among pathogens, and the limited resources available. Other objectives focus on using this problem to help further the education of engineering students.
If successful, the results of this research will contribute to the safety of healthcare delivery by building a better understanding of optimal screening strategies for donated blood, considering unconventional solutions, such as regional, blood group, or sub-population specific testing, which focus on equity in outcomes. As such, it has the potential to be transformative by shifting focus to unconventional testing schemes. This research is driven by the current needs of blood suppliers, and our collaboration with the American Red Cross, within a multi-disciplinary team of engineers and medical professionals, is an essential component of this project. Further, this research has application beyond blood screening (e.g., organ/tissue transplants, carcinogen testing, food testing). Graduate and undergraduate engineering students will benefit through classroom instruction and involvement in the research.