New shielded MDA Blood Services Center 1st of its kind worldwide

The six-story Marcus National Blood Services Center in Ramle was specifically designed to withstand missile attacks and biological and chemical weapons.

 Marcus National Blood Services Center in Ramle. (photo credit: AMERICAN FRIENDS OF MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
Marcus National Blood Services Center in Ramle.

When thinking of a blood bank and processing center, the words “subterranean” and “shielded” might not be the first ones that come to mind. However, that is exactly what Magen David Adom (MDA) has created with the new Marcus National Blood Services Center.

State of the art, $135 million facility

The facility, located in Ramle in central Israel, is the world’s first blood bank to be designed specifically with the goal of protecting a country’s strategic blood reserves from missiles and chemical and biological attacks.

The six-story, noncombustible steel and concrete building will serve as the new location for all of MDA’s blood-processing operations. Until now, they had been housed in its Ramat Gan facility, which was built in the 1980s. However, with a growing population and increased needs, the original facility is no longer large enough to meet demand.

The new facility was a project of MDA and American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Defense Ministry, the IDF and the National Cyber Security Authority.

The location and construction of the blood-processing facility is considered key to the interests of Israel’s security. In the past, MDA has had to stop processing blood and move the country’s blood reserves into a bomb shelter during times of war, interrupting blood production at a time when it was likely to be needed most.

 Prof. Eilat Shinhar and Catherine Reed (credit: AMERICAN FRIENDS OF MAGEN DAVID ADOM) Prof. Eilat Shinhar and Catherine Reed (credit: AMERICAN FRIENDS OF MAGEN DAVID ADOM)

The facility was built at a cost of $135 million, funded primarily by AFMDA, which conducted extensive fundraising campaigns throughout the planning and construction stages.

“We’ve had the opportunity with this building to really engage people at an absolutely fundamental level,” AFMDA CEO and chief development office Catherine Reed told The Jerusalem Post. “They understand how critically important it is for Israel to be prepared for anything.”

Life in a dangerous neighborhood

“We were able to reach out to our current donors, but also new donors throughout the United States, and share the importance of the building with them,” she said. “This is a project that will touch the lives of every single Israeli. And people got that, and they understood with the neighborhood that we live in, and the inherent dangers in that neighborhood, that the blood supply absolutely had to be secured.”

“We have been incredibly fortunate because there are so many Americans who are passionate about Israel and about medicine,” Reed added.

Three levels of protection

The new center bears the name of Bernie Marcus and his wife, Billi Marcus, who donated $35m. to the project. Other prominent donors include the late Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam; the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; and Bloomberg Philanthropies, Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable organization.

The Marcus Center features three different levels of protection across its six floors, with varying security zones. Three of the six floors are located above ground, and three are underground.

The ground floor has training facilities, an auditorium, a dining area and a blood donation wing for the public. The second floor houses more training facilities and a human milk bank, where mothers’ milk is collected for premature and ill infants.

The three floors below ground level are all surrounded by extra-thick concrete walls, blast doors and airlocks, as well as elements designed to protect against biological and chemical weapons.

The first underground floor houses shielded blood-bank laboratories, a transportation center and secure fleet parking, where new ambulances will be stationed.

The second underground floor houses the cord-blood inventory, an R&D molecular lab and a chemical- and biological-warfare air-filtration system that enables staff throughout the building to continue working and processing blood in the event of a chemical or biological attack.

At the heart of the third and deepest level lies the blood storage vault, a 300-sq.m. (3,229-sq.ft.) safe room shielded against the most severe missile threats and where Israel’s strategic inventory of 25,000 blood components will be safeguarded in times of war.

Unique new services

Three of the services offered by MDA, which will operate out of the Marcus Center, are unique to the organization and critically important to the State of Israel, MDA Blood Services Division director Prof. Eilat Shinar told the Post.

The first of these three services is the laboratory for rare blood types.

“In Israel, we have people coming from many different countries, and every country brings their own different, rare blood type,” she said. “So we have the reference laboratory for rare blood, where we diagnose and analyze samples from patients who need blood or pregnant women who need to be observed during the pregnancy. So, the rare-blood laboratory is one of the very special and unique parts of the MDA blood services.”

The next service operated by MDA, in addition to the regular blood collection, is the collection of cord blood, Shinar said.

“The umbilical-cord blood bank is where we collect blood from the placentas of women who just gave birth,” she said. “And we then extract the stem cells and keep them for stem-cell transplants for patients in need of one, both in Israel and worldwide.”

The newest project is the human-milk bank, which was started last year and is run by MDA and overseen by the Health Ministry, Shinar said.

“We approach women who volunteer to extract breast milk and donate it to the MDA milk bank, and we prepare it, pasteurize it and make it safe for premature babies, because these tiny patients, their lives depend on getting human milk,” she said.

A facility that will "grow with us" 

Looking ahead to the future of the project, MDA along with AFMDA have plans to continuously upgrade and develop the new facilities, with help and involvement of the donors, who want to see the project grow and succeed. One such project on the horizon is an R&D lab focused on transfusion medicine, Reed said.

“We [AFMDA] will be involved in the maintenance, we’ll be involved in the equipment purchases, and we’ll always have our donors coming through the building to see what they’ve made possible,” she said.

The new facility will have the ability to hold 500,000 units of blood, compared with 260,000 units in the Ramat Gan facility, Shinar said, adding that it will also have a daily emergency capacity of 3,300 additional units.

“If we look forward – and we really want to give the country a facility that will carry us for the next 20 years – we need to calculate how the growth in Israel will be with the population and their needs when it comes to blood,” she said.

“It [the facility] will grow with us,” Shinar said. “We talk about doubling the need for space and modern equipment, and with everything new that will come into our field of transfusion medicine, we will be able to do all of it in the new facility in Ramle.”