When a patient is in need of blood, hospitals and emergency rooms must do everything in their power to find the right blood type. It is not uncommon for hospitals to be out of particular types, leaving them in a precarious situation. When a patient is in desperate need of a specific type of blood and a hospital has run dry, a patient’s second chance at life can vanish.
It’s not easy for blood banks and hospitals to maintain a constant supply of all the necessary blood types. With so many types and some being more rare than others, the ability to change blood from one type to another would prove highly beneficial.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia believe they may have come up with a solution to this age-old problem. They created an enzyme that may have the potential to change both Type A and Type B blood into a universal Type O.
Eliminating Enzymes Of The Sugars That Define Each Blood Type
By eliminating the sugars found on Type A and Type B blood, they can be transformed to Type O, which can be used to help treat people with any blood type. By gaining this ability, hospitals and blood banks could have an alternative option if they ever run out of a particular type of blood.
The researchers used a technique known as directed evolution. This strategy works by adding mutations to a gene that controls the production of the mutant enzyme. After the enzyme is created, researchers select mutations that are more effective at eliminating the sugar attached to Type A and Type B blood. The technique takes multiple generations of mutations to become effective, but after five mutations, the researchers found it was 170 times more effective at eliminating the sugars found on Type A and Type B blood.
Perfecting The Method
While this method provides promising results for the potential of changing blood types, it is not yet ready for actual clinical use. For the blood to be safe for use in human beings, all of the sugars associated with either the Type A or Type B blood type would have to be removed.
The team at UBC was able to remove a large majority of these sugars, but not all of them. The body’s immune system is highly sensitive to even the smallest amounts of these sugars. Having even the slightest amount of sugar present would make the blood ineffective. While the current method did not produce the desired results, the team believes they are close to developing a more lasting solution.
“The concept is not new but until now we needed so much enzyme to make it work that it was impractical,” said Steve Withers, one of the professors heading up the study. “Now I’m confident we can take this a whole lot further.”
The United States currently has a great need for all types of blood. More than 41,000 blood transfusions are needed everyday. Type O is the most requested blood type. By having the ability to change Type A and Type B blood to Type O, a great weight could be lifted off the shoulders of blood banks aimed at saving lives.
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