There are blood types so rare, they are only stored in a few places around the world. One such place is the International Blood Group Reference Laboratory in the United Kingdom.
London-based photographer Greg White recently toured the lab at the National Health Service Blood and Transplant's Filton Blood Center, which is filled wall to wall with bags of blood.
“It’s eerie at first seeing so much blood being moved about,” said White, who was there to photograph the center for the online science journal, Mosaic Magazine.
The bags’ contents are known as “golden blood” because they can help save the lives of people with some of the rarest blood types in the world. Uncommon blood types are shared by fewer than one in 10,000 people, according to the Red Cross.
Blood is grouped into four types -- A, B, AB and O -- based on markers known as antigens carried on the surface of red blood cells, as well as 600 possible additional antigens. It’s furthered sub-typed by the presence or absence of another marker known as Rh factor, according to the Red Cross. One blood type housed in the lab contains no antigens whatsoever and is among the rarest types in the world.
White’s photos provide a rare glimpse into the lab, which was founded in the 1940s. He described entering the building’s nondescript lobby then entering into a grey room to put on a blue surgical gown, shoe protectors and a hairnet. Next, he passed through an airlock into “The White Room,” the huge, sterile warehouse where rare blood from all over England is stored and processed.
“It’s impressive, though quite daunting -- you don’t want to be the one to contaminate the room,” White said.
Very rare blood shared by under .01 percent of the population is processed and stored separately from the rest of the blood to avoid mistakes, White explained. However, British hospitals pay about $200 per bag regardless of blood type. If blood is needed in another country, the hospitals negotiate the rates.
White, who called the lab a fascinating and miraculous space, said photographing the lab was more than a visual treat.
“It’s quite easy to pass by the building without appreciating how much blood is needed in hospitals and how much of it passes through this place,” he said.