This year, as New York Blood Center (NYBC) launches its 50th Anniversary celebrations, we have an opportunity to reflect on our history of serving local and global public health needs. On the eve of our Golden Jubilee, we are grateful to the many individuals and organizations who helped found NYBC, including IBM, whose $100,000 gift in 1963 helped lay the foundation for our great organization.
NYBC was established at a time when the area’s blood supply was dangerous and in disarray. The chances of getting a blood-borne infection from a transfusion was alarmingly high, as large portions of the blood supply came from paid donors from high-crime New York City neighborhoods. NYBC’s initial goal was to clean up and consolidate the blood supply, and also create a research institute to advance transfusion medicine and improve blood safety. Fifty years later, we are proud to say that we have accomplished that goal.
In those 50 years, our groundbreaking discoveries have helped make the blood supply safer while also treating and curing some of the world’s most challenging diseases. These discoveries include a vaccination for hepatitis B, the creation of a procedure that inactivates viruses in plasma which drastically reduced the risk of hepatitis and HIV for hemophiliac and other patients, and the use of stem cells from newborn umbilical cords that have been used to treat more than 80 diseases.
In the early 1960s, the chance of getting hepatitis C from a blood transfusion was about one in four. Today those odds are about one in 1 million. When we were founded, diseases such as lymphoma and leukemia were death sentences. Today, we are seeing survival rates of up to 90 percent for children. In the 1980s and 1990s, an estimated 10,000 hemophiliacs contracted HIV from tainted blood. Today, the probability that a hemophiliac will contract HIV from treatment is almost zero. NYBC’s contributions to science and research have positively impacted millions of lives, and our work continues.
We are open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (including all holidays) collecting and distributing life-saving blood donations to more than 200 hospitals throughout our region. NYBC also delivers stem cell-rich umbilical cord blood and bone marrow to patients around the world. Our research remains state-of-the-art and focused on advancing transfusion medicine and improving blood safety.
While NYBC is proud of our many achievements, we recognize that our work would have been impossible without our community of supporters. Approximately 25 million blood donations have been made since 1964 – more than 250,000 of them from IBMers – saving countless lives. And the financial contributions from IBM and IBMers have helped us fight some of the world’s deadliest diseases. But we need your continued support. Our patients still need for you to roll up your sleeves. Our researchers need your support to offset cutbacks in federal funding. With your involvement and support, NYBC can continue to make life changing differences in peoples’ lives.
I encourage you to visit our newly designed website to learn more about our NYBC and how you can make a difference.
Christopher D. Hillyer, M.D., is President and CEO of New York Blood Center and a Professor in the Department of Medicine of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.