Monday, April 02, 2007

An end to the blood shortage?

I just saw this on digg, and was skeptical at first since it was published April 1st, but it's in both New Scientist and on the Nature website.
One of the barriers to an abundant blood supply for transfusion (other than a donor shortage) is immunological reaction to incompatible blood types. Type O, or universal donor blood lacks the A and B surface antigens, minimizing the risk of immune rejection. Scientists have now found a way to strip the A and B antigens from blood using bacterial enzymes, essentially turning any blood into Type O.

From the Nature article:

Type O is the most common blood group, but stocks constantly run low because it is used in all emergency situations where there is no time to determine the patient's own group.

An additional pressure on type-O blood, particularly in the United States, comes from the mismatch between blood donors and recipients. Most US donors are Caucasian, amongst whom 45% of people are blood group O. But more than half of African Americans, and nearly all native Americans are O, and so require type-O blood.

While blood donors are always needed, this new technology, if it pans out, should ease some of the burden on the system. It is currently in early stage clinical trials.


rob said...

Replacing foreign human antigens with bacterial enzymes? I hope the method of removing the enzymes after treatment is pretty effective.

kamel said...

Yeah, I thought about that as well. According to the full paper in Nature Biotechnology (subscription required) the enzymes are easily removed by standard cell washing techniques.