Scientists in Japan have developed “artificial blood” that could, in theory, be transfused into patients regardless of their blood type. Yep, it's pretty much the same premise as the TV show True Blood, just without the vampires.
It’s still extremely early days for the research – so far, it’s only been tested out on 10 rabbits with mixed success – however, if it moves into human trials, this could be a very exciting breakthrough.
Currently, if you need to receive a blood transfusion, it must be matched with your blood type or the "universal donor," type O negative. A one-size-fits-all blood substitute would overcome all sorts of existing obstacles, ranging from not enough donations by ethnic minorities, to finding matches for rare blood types. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 117.4 billion units of donated blood are collected globally each year, and that's still not enough.
Reported in the journal Transfusion, researchers in Japan set out to develop an artificial blood surrogate that can mimic and fulfill the functions of biological blood, primarily the storage and transport of oxygen, if a body is suffering from severe blood loss during surgery or after trauma.
Typically, hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body's tissues and returns carbon dioxide back to the lungs. As a substitute for this vital protein, the team developed “hemoglobin vesicles” with a diameter of just 250 nanometers that can serve as an oxygen carrier. Along with liposome-based hemostatic nanoparticles, this was mixed with plasma, the yellowish liquid basis of blood.
The researchers transfused the blood surrogate into 10 rabbits that had been subjected to lethal hemorrhaging from a liver injury. Remarkably, six of them survived, which the study says is about the same success rate as a biological blood transfusion, and none of the animals experienced any “serious adverse events” in the study.
It’s unclear whether this product could potentially lead to any wider health problems as the researchers did not explore the long-term safety of the blood. Equally, the study also warns that their findings “may not be generalizable to humans.” It’s worth knowing that many attempts to create a reliable blood substitute have been launched over the past decades, with limited success.
Despite these limitations, the research could provide another vital stepping stone to finding that much sought-after universal artificial blood substitute. Along with removing the need for a human donor, artificial blood could make blood transfusions dramatically more accessible. According to the WHO, 42 percent of current donations come from high-income countries where less than 16 percent of the world's population lives.
“It is difficult to stock a sufficient amount of blood for transfusions in such regions as remote islands,” study author Manabu Kinoshita, an associate professor of immunology at the National Defense Medical College, told the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. “The artificial blood will be able to save the lives of people who otherwise could not be saved.”