Blood donation is something that everyone should do, but not many people actually will. Although everyone who does is giving up a little bit of themselves to potentially save someone else’s life, there’s only so much one person can give. To make matters worse, blood types can complicate things too. While there are some donors, there simply isn’t enough blood to suit each and every blood type. This may change though.
This scientific advancement comes at a crucial time where blood supply is running low and many patients needing replacement blood. Researchers from the University of British Columbia have figured out how to convert blood types A, B and AB into the universal Type O, which all patients can receive in a transfusion, regardless of their own blood type. This miraculous process uses microbes which are found in the human gut. It’s all natural and nothing is synthesised.
Blood types are all unique and each type can be differentiated by the specific kind of sugar which is found on the surface of red blood cells. Type O, the universal blood type simply doesn’t have any sugars at all, which is why almost any patient in the world can safely receive it in a transfusion. So, how does this tie in with the microbes from the human gut?
It was a while ago that scientists had realised that some enzymes have the ability to remove the sugars from A, B and AB blood cells, effectively turning them into Type O. However, upon making this discovery, there were no suitable enzymes. The researchers hadn’t found an enzyme that was safe, efficient and economical. That was, until they considered the gut, which is full of different enzymes. The human digestive tract is full of amazing things which each does it’s own job.
One of those things is the same sugars which are found on blood cells. Alongside them are bacterial enzymes, which are found in faeces that strip these sugars from the lining to aid digestion. The scientists were able to isolate the bacterial enzyme and use it to strip the blood cells of its sugars in a more efficient way than any other enzyme had previously been able to. This exciting discovery was made last year, back in August. However, the scientists were still collating everything and have only just published their research in the journal – Nature Microbiology.
The future looks very promising. While this research is incredible, there’s still lots to do before it can be used in the real world. The next step for the scientists is to test the enzyme conversion in a clinical setting, rather than in a controlled lab environment. This is to test for any changes or side effects from the procedure. If there aren’t any hiccups, they will get the go-ahead and blood donation and transfusion will never been the same again.
Long have people been waiting for something like this. Effectively having the ability to offer a much larger supply of blood, regardless of the type that is donated. A, B, and AB are quite common and so there’s enough blood to convert. This is absolutely remarkable and I’m sure will go a very long way. Blood donation and transfusions will change forever, for the better.