Scientists may have found a way to change donated blood so that any blood could be used with any person, regardless of blood type. A specific type of enzyme from the human gut has been found to have the ability to turn type A and B blood into type O, also known as the “universal donor” blood type. The results of the study were presented at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Type O blood that can be universally administered in an emergency is in high demand. Type O blood lacks antigens on its cell membranes, unlike type A, B and AB red blood cells, which have specific antigens on their surfaces. Dissimilar antigens between the person’s blood and the donated blood will cause the immune system to react against the red blood cells. Stripping the blood types of their antigens before a transfusion could let all blood types become universal donors.
Scientists have pursued the idea of adjusting donated blood to a common type for a while. A few enzymes discovered in the past can change type B blood to type O, but the process proved costly and difficult to scale. Donation centers never pool blood donations in order to decrease the risk of spreading infectious disease, so any blood that needs to be altered would have to be altered one donation at a time.
The enzymes identified by lead study author Stephen Withers, a biochemist at the University of British Columbia, and his team have been found to be 30 times more effective at removing red blood cell antigens than previously reported candidates. Withers is now working with researchers at the Centre for Blood Research at UBC to validate these enzymes and test them on a larger scale. Withers said in an interview, “I am optimistic that we have a very interesting candidate to adjust donated blood to a common type. Of course, it will have to go through lots of clinical trials to make sure that it doesn’t have any adverse consequences, but it is looking very promising.”