Los Angeles LGBT Center Partners with Nation’s Largest Blood Centers to Conduct Research Which May Expand Gay and Bi Men’s Donor Eligibility - Los Angeles LGBT Center

Los Angeles LGBT Center Partners with Nation’s Largest Blood Centers to Conduct Research Which May Expand Gay and Bi Men’s Donor Eligibility

June 23, 2021
Contact: Gil Diaz

The Los Angeles LGBT Center will help recruit hundreds of eligible participants in a pilot study launched by three of the nation’s largest blood centers in an effort to change discriminatory policy that prevents most gay and bisexual men from donating blood. Vitalant, OneBlood, and the American Red Cross, which collectively represent approximately 60 percent of the blood supply in the United States, are conducting the ADVANCE (Assessing Donor Variability and New Concepts in Eligibility) study. The Center is one of eight LGBT centers nationwide each responsible for recruiting 250–300 gay and bi men between 18 to 39 years old for the innovative study.

Funded through a contract with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the groundbreaking study is focused on evaluating alternatives to the FDA’s current blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men (MSM). The FDA recommends that a man who has had sex with another man be deferred from donating blood for three months following the most recent sexual contact with another man. The FDA revised the deferral policy from 1 year to 3 months in April 2020,

“The elimination of the FDA’s archaic blood donation policy for gay and bi men is long overdue. The decades-old policy was enacted at a time when there was little science on the mechanisms of HIV transmission and the epidemic was concentrated in the gay community,” said Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Chief Medical Officer Robert Bolan, M.D. “The Center is eager to contribute, through the ADVANCE study, in ending the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS and the discrimination that targets gay and bisexual men.”

The purpose of the ADVANCE study is a first step in determining whether different donor deferral criteria can be used at blood centers nationwide while maintaining the safety of the blood supply. For this to be possible, a change would need to be made to the donor history questionnaire that consists of a series of questions which all potential blood donors answer before donating. The questions assess risk factors which could indicate possible infection with a transfusion transmissible infection, including HIV.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” said Brian Custer, Ph.D., vice president of Research and Scientific Programs with Vitalant Research Institute.

Participants in the study will have a blood sample drawn for HIV testing and will answer different questions designed to determine individual HIV risk factors. The study will assess if the questions related to behavior are effective in distinguishing between MSM who have recently tested positive for HIV and those who have not. The findings of this study will help determine the next steps needed to modify the donor history questionnaire.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean gay and bisexual men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” said Susan Stramer, Ph.D., vice president of Scientific Affairs, with American Red Cross Biomedical Services.

To gather the necessary data, the blood centers are partnering with LGBTQ+ Centers in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Orlando, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. The study will enroll a total of 2,000 participants (250–300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria. The data collected from the ADVANCE study will be submitted to the FDA who will review the findings and decide the next steps.

“The FDA is committed to considering alternatives to the time-based deferral currently in place for men who have sex with men that are based on scientific evidence supporting an effective individual risk assessment-based blood donor questionnaire,” said Nicole Verdun, M.D., director of the Office of Blood Research and Review at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, the study is a significant step in the right direction.

“We are hopeful the ADVANCE study will conclude that state-of-the-art testing of the blood supply, combined with an individual risk assessment, will support a change to the blood donor deferral policy so that all men who have sex with men can be considered potential blood donors,” said CenterLink CEO Denise Spivak.

To learn more about the ADVANCE study and to enroll, visit ADVANCEstudy.org

About the Los Angeles LGBT Center

Since 1969 the Los Angeles LGBT Center has cared for, championed, and celebrated LGBT individuals and families in Los Angeles and beyond. Today the Center's nearly 800 employees provide services for more LGBT people than any other organization in the world, offering programs, services, and global advocacy that span four broad categories: Health, Social Services and Housing, Culture and Education, Leadership and Advocacy. We are an unstoppable force in the fight against bigotry and the struggle to build a better world; a world in which LGBT people thrive as healthy, equal, and complete members of society. Learn more at lalgbtcenter.org.

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