Research Communications

NIH Awards $1.6 Million for Ohio University Blood Donation Research 

May 16, 2006

ATHENS, Ohio – As the pool of blood donors ages, the Red Cross seeks new recruits to help ensure an adequate blood supply. Occasionally, first-time donors experience mild reactions, which might deter them from coming back to donate again. New Ohio University research hopes to offer some relief for the problem.

Chris France, professor of psychology, received a $1.65 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to follow a group of 400 first-time donors, tracking their experiences during their initial donation and their likelihood of donating again. France, who is working on the project with Mary-Ellen Wissel and Aaron Rader of the American Red Cross and Ohio University researchers Janis France and Bruce Carlson, hopes to be able to teach donors ways of preventing adverse reactions such as dizziness, fainting and lightheadedness.

“Our goal is to make the first donation experience as pleasant as possible,” says France, who studies the effects of stressors on the cardiovascular system, and has focused on blood donation issues for the past 15 years.

Reactions to blood donation such as faintness or dizziness can occur when people experience a sudden drop in blood pressure. That can stem from a variety of factors, such as anxiety or loss in blood volume. Fortunately, most donors don’t notice any changes in blood pressure and have no problems giving blood, France noted. Some donors will experience reactions, however, which can discourage further participation.

France previously has published studies that showed that drinking a bottle of water about 30 minutes before the donation raises blood pressure enough to prevent reactions. In a separate study, he taught some donors a rhythmic muscle-tensing technique that helps maintain blood pressure. Both of these studies have shown that first-time donors experienced fewer side effects during the donation when using these techniques, but the researchers did not track donors’ likelihood of coming back for another blood drive.

In the new study, France and his colleagues are recruiting first-time blood donors at blood drives in Athens and Columbus, Ohio. The donors will be placed into one of four study groups. One group will be asked to drink water before the donation, another group will be taught the muscle-tensing technique, and one group will be asked to both drink water and practice the muscle tensing. The fourth group will serve as a control to observe effects of blood donation without any intervention.

The researchers will track the donors for two years to determine the number of times each person chooses to donate after the first experience. The study period is set at five years to allow time for recruiting donors and following their donation behavior.

 “The NIH believes that this research is important because they’re aware of the increasing strain on the blood supply,” France said.

As much of the donated blood supply is used to treat older individuals, the need for blood is expected to continue to rise as the Baby Boomer generation ages. In addition, as the current pool of committed donors grows older, blood collection agencies need to recruit and retain younger first-time donors and encourage them to become lifelong participants.

Interested first-time blood donors can call France’s lab at (740) 593-4557 or e-mail to get more information about taking part in the study.

By Christina Dierkes

Contact: Chris France, (740) 593-1079 or (740) 593-4557,

Media Contacts: Andrea Gibson (740) 597-2166,; Catherine West,
American Red Cross, Central Ohio Blood Services Region, 614-253-2740, ext. 2275.