Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center begins testing for Zika virus

Doctors can take up to 3,600 samples daily with new instrument


HOUSTON – The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center started utilizing a new instrument Sunday to research blood infected with the Zika virus.

The Center is testing blood donations for the Zika virus as part of an investigational new drug-application protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration, according to a release from the Center.

The Center is one of only a few blood institutions in the United States participating in the Cobas Zika test trial.

The Blood Center has installed three Cobas 6800 instruments that will conduct the fully automated testing, authorities said.

The Center said the instruments will test all samples individually and are able to detect extremely small quantities of the Zika virus.

According to officials, the Center will now be able to screen more than 3,600 samples a day using the Cobas Zika test. Roche Molecular Systems — the world's largest biotech company and a pioneer in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics — manufactures the machine, officials said.

“As a leader in diagnostics, Roche is committed to providing testing solutions for the world’s most challenging health care emergencies,” said Uwe Oberlaender, head of Roche Molecular Systems. “With the collaboration of the FDA on this IND, we are able to further expand our commitment to help keep the blood supply safe.”

“The Blood Center values our community and the safety of our blood supply,” said the Blood Center’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Susan Rossmann, “so we have taken this proactive step to test for the Zika virus. We are glad to be one of the first blood centers in the United States to use this investigational test.”

All donors must sign a consent form in order for the test to be performed because the test is in the trial stage, officials said.

The Blood Center said it will continue to help safeguard the blood supply and protect the patients it serves by deferring donors who could potentially carry the Zika virus as part of the required screening process.

As of yet, officials said there have been no cases of Zika transmission from mosquitoes in the United States.

All known Zika cases on the mainland have been from people who have traveled to countries affected by the virus or women who have had sexual contact with someone who has been in those areas within the past 28 days.

The Blood Center is the primary supplier of blood components to more than 170 hospitals and health care facilities in a 26-county Texas Gulf Coast region and needs 1,000 donations a day to meet the needs of those patients.

The following donors will not be allowed to donate blood:

those who have traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America within 28 days.

Any woman who has had sexual contact with a man, who has had a Zika virus infection or has traveled to one of the infected areas in the previous three months, will be deferred until at least four weeks after their last sexual contact within that three-month window.