Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have identified “a new, more powerful group of enzymes” with the potential to “turn any blood into the universally usable type O.”
When performing a blood transfusion, in order for the process to run safely, the donor and the patient’s blood types must match.
O-negative blood, however, is compatible with all other blood types. During an emergency, when there’s not enough time to identify a person’s blood type, patients receive O-negative blood – which is part of the reason why it’s always in demand.
Chemistry professor Stephen Withers, a lead researcher at UBC, explains that “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,” says Withers.
“Antigens can trigger an immune response if they are foreign to the body, so transfusion patients should receive either their own blood type or type O to avoid a reaction.”
By removing antigens from blood, you can effectively transform it into type O. While Withers and his team have already developed enzymes capable of doing such, their latest discovery has found a “more powerful group of enzymes found in the human gut.”
“Researchers have been studying the use of enzymes to modify blood as far bask as 1982,” says Withers. “These new enzymes can do the job 30 times better.”
Researchers from the Centre for Blood Research at UBC are currently applying for a patent on the latest enzyme, with hopes to test them on a larger scale and ultimately prepare them for clinical testing.
“Our hope,” explains Withers, “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.”