Sourcing matching blood types may soon be a thing of the past as scientists have developed a revolutionary technique for creating a “universal” blood type. Blood transfusions save thousands of lives annually yet only 1% of South Africans actively donate blood – leaving patients at risk of shortages of specific blood types. Instances like that are particularly problematic in emergency situations, where there is little time for blood matching, the use of universal donor blood (Type O) is essential, but supply is often short, says Peter Rahfeld, a postdoctoral research at the university of British Columbia.
According to statistics, three-quarters of the world’s population have one of four blood types: A, B, AB, or O. Each carries different strains of antigens and antibodies on the surface of their blood cells which provoke different immune responses. Up until now, however, doctors have been unable to mix incompatible blood types for operations and treatments without the patient suffering an autoimmune reaction.
The O blood type, however, is considered the “universal” blood donor because it only contains neutral antigens that can safely interact with the antigens of other blood types.
In a new study from the University of British Columbia, researchers say they have “managed to identify a bacterial enzyme that can neutralize antigens and render their immune responses harmless”. Researchers discovered the bacteria inside of our own gut microbiome. Upon mixing the bacteria with a type A blood sample, the bacteria removed the aggressive antigens and turned it into a universal type O blood sample.
The researchers now hope that they will be able to develop the procedure so that physicians can soon have virtually unlimited access to type O blood around the world. Peter Rahfeld added. “In addition to their use in RBC conversion we plan to test the use of these and related enzymes in the removal of antigens from other important cell surfaces and tissues. Such approaches could widen the availability of good ‘matches’ in organ and stem cell transplantations.”
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