An artificial, universal, one-size-fits-all blood type has shown promise during experimentation and promises to revolutionize blood transfusions. The breakthrough medical technology is being developed at UK’s University of Essex. The artificial substitute can be stored at room temperature, and it can be used by anyone, regardless of the recipient’s blood type.
This technology would make blood donations obsolete, as well as eliminating the problems due to shortages of rarer types. In a recent study, the number of blood donations have decreased over the years, leading to hospitals struggling to meet the needs of their patients with a reliable and safe supply of blood. The American Red Cross frequently has to post urgent notices to convince the public to donate, especially those who are O positive and O negative. Each day, approximately 44,000 units of blood are required for patients in the United States. The waiting period for blood transfusions is also steadily increasing. The Red Cross, in a recent notice, stated that over 900 blood and platelet donors are needed every day. The universal type, O negative, is always in high demand, yet they state that all types are needed.
The new artificial, one-size-fits-all blood technology is poised to solve all of these issues and to revolutionize the practice of blood transfusions. The project is being developed under the name HaemO2. The blood could be stored for up to two years without the need for refrigeration, which is ideal for stockpiling for emergency situations. The project’s leader Chris Cooper stated that the technology could overcome the inherent problems with blood transfusions, due to there no longer being a need to group blood according to type, and a longer shelf life means an adequate supply will be available in case of major disasters.
Cooper also notes that blood transfusions in an ambulance or remote inaccessible locations, and quite possibly in the near future, “do it yourself” at-home transfusions, could become common. The main objective of the project is to create a synthetic haemoglobin-based oxygen carrier (HBOC). HBOCs are being studied in the hope of creating artificial blood, but it has had little success in clinical trials. The primary reason for the issues in testing is the that haemoglobin can be toxic when not safely enclosed in a red blood cell.
The HaemO2 team believes they have the answer. Their technology utilizes the body’s natural defense systems to detoxify the haemoglobin. The team has recently been awarded $2.5 million in research funding by the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
$2.5 billion has been spent in the past 25 years to find an optimal blood replacement. Many companies have given up trying to revolutionize blood transfusions with an artificial one-size-fits-all blood type, some even declaring bankruptcy. Some technologies have been fully developed, but they have failed to meet the strict standards of UK and US health regulators. Cooper and his team stated that their project is showing promise, and they look forward to changing the world for the better, but there is still work to be done.
By Andres Loubriel