Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have found a new, more powerful group of enzymes that can turn any type of blood into the universal Type O blood.
The recent breakthrough, announced in a statement by the university last week, could eventually expand the pool of potential blood donors and make blood matching safer and easier.
Blood type is determined by the presence of antigens on the surface of red blood cells.
Type A blood has the A antigen, B has the B antigen, AB blood has both antigens and O blood has none.
Antigens can trigger an immune response if they are foreign to the body, so transfusion to patients should receive either their own blood type or Type O to avoid a reaction.
Researchers have been studying the use of enzymes to modify blood for nearly 40 years.
However, these new enzymes can do the job 30 times better, leading researcher Stephen Withers, a professor of chemistry at UBC, said.
Withers and his team focused on the mucosal lining of the human gut, which contains sugars that are similar in structure to blood antigens.
“By honing in on the bacteria feeding on those sugars, we isolated the enzymes the bacteria use to pluck off the sugar molecules,’’ he said in the news conference.
“We then produced quantities of those enzymes through cloning and found that they were capable of performing a similar action on blood antigens.’’
The team is now applying for a patent on the new enzymes and hoping to test them on a larger scale.
Expanding global blood supply is critical in light of growing populations and the frequency of natural disasters.
“Our hope is that one day we can eventually render any type of donated blood, tissues or organs, safe for use by anyone regardless of their native blood type,’’ Withers said.
According to him, the next step is to hold tests to show that the blood behaves properly once converted.
If that works well, human clinical trials could start within the next two years.