To study whether the administration of recombinant human erythropoietin increases the amount of autologous blood that can be collected before surgery, we conducted a randomized, controlled trial of erythropoietin in 47 adults scheduled for elective orthopedic procedures. The patients received either erythropoietin (600 units per kilogram of body weight) or placebo intravenously twice a week for 21 days, during which
time up to 6 units of blood was collected. Patients were excluded from donation when their hematocrit values were less than 34 percent. All patients received iron sulfate (325 mg orally three times daily). The mean number of units collected per patient (+/- SE) was 5.4 +/- 0.2 for the erythropoietin group and 4.1 +/- 0.2 for the placebo group. The mean red-cell volume donated by the patients who received erythropoietin was 41 percent greater than that donated by the patients who received placebo (961 vs. 683 ml, P less than 0.05). Only 1 of the 23 patients treated with erythropoietin was unable to donate greater than or equal to 4 units (4 percent) as compared with 7 of the 24 patients who received placebo (29 percent). No adverse effects were attributed to erythropoietin. We conclude that recombinant human erythropoietin increases the ability of patients about to undergo elective surgery to donate autologous blood.