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Introduction: National Testing Labs

Medical advances in screening donors and testing blood have dramatically improved blood safety. At the same time, changing technology has imposed enormous demands on blood banks. Providing the safest possible blood while accommodating continuing technological advances requires a streamlined and state-of-the-art national system of testing laboratories that can adopt new technologies efficiently.

The following tests are performed on each donor at the time of donation:

  • ABO/Rh determination
  • Antibody detection
  • Automated test for Syphilis
  • Antibody to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (anti HIV 1/2)
  • Antibody to Hepatitis B Core Antigen (anti-HBc)
  • Antibody to Hepatitis C Virus (anti-HCV)
  • Antibody to Human T-Cell Lymphotropic Virus (anti HTLV I/II)
  • Nucleic Acid Test for HIV 1/2/HCV and West Nile Virus (WNV)

In 1991, the American Red Cross began a transformation that made significant changes to the structure, operation and culture of Blood Services. Regional blood operations were consolidated and standardized with a comprehensive Quality Assurance system and pharmaceutical-like operation. A streamlined network of testing laboratories designed to surpass current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) is one of the key supports of this program.

Initially, the Red Cross consolidated its network of 53 original Red Cross testing laboratories into nine National Testing Laboratories (NTL) facilities. In 2005, further consolidation occurred and now five state-of-the-art NTLs are located as follows:

Charlotte NTL
13500-A South Point Blvd
Charlotte, NC 38373

Portland NTL
12124 NE Ainsworth Circle
Portland, OR 97220

Detroit NTL
100 Eliot Street
Detroit, MI 48201

St. Louis NTL
4050 Lindell Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63108

Philadelphia NTL
700 Spring Garden Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123

All blood collected at Red Cross regional blood centers is now tested at Red Cross NTLs. This modern system of fewer and larger standardized labs allows the rapid adoption of changes in technology and new tests and responds to medical and scientific challenges. Additionally, the Red Cross NTLs have attracted the interest of non-Red Cross blood centers and hospitals to perform their testing.

  • Fewer, Larger Laboratories
    The first of the National Testing Laboratories (NTL) was opened in August, 1992, and the final NTL was opened in May 1995. Today, all of the nearly 7.2 million units of blood donated annually to the Red Cross are tested at the organization's NTLs in Detroit, Philadelphia, Charlotte, N.C., Portland, Ore., and St. Louis, Miss.
  • Identical Operating Procedures, Training and Equipment
    Implementation of standardized operating procedures and training and identical equipment at all NTLs improve quality control and facilitate the adoption of new technology. Each NTL implements a quality assurance program to help maintain high testing standards.
  • Quality Service Delivery and Economies of Scale
    Ninety-five percent of all blood is tested by the NTLs within 15 hours from the time the blood samples are shipped from the regional blood centers; 99 percent of all blood is tested within 24-hours. The requisite technology and automation enable the Red Cross to meet high-service requirements at lower costs.
  • Lead Role in Blood Safety and Research
    The NTLs—because of their size and identical equipment and procedures—also host clinical trials for new or improved blood tests. These trials are in cooperation with the manufacturers of blood test reagents.
  • Tests from 7.2 Million Samples Each Year
    Standardized operating procedures, equipment and training maximize sample testing flow and flexibility.
  • Emergency Back-up Plan
    Each NTL can transfer its testing to another NTL for emergency testing in case of natural disasters or other unanticipated contingencies, and each was designed to accommodate substantial additional testing for just such occurrences.
  • Testing Support
    Testing support located in Charlotte, N.C., provides Quality Assurance, Human Resources, Process Optimization and Operations Support for the five NTLs.

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