Health Care

UBC researchers have found a way to make donated blood universal

UBC researchers have found a way to make donated blood universal”

Researchers from the University of British Columbia believe they can make blood transfusions easier for medical professionals and safer for patients thanks to newly discovered enzymes that transform blood type.

People with type A or B blood can't receive blood with differing antigens, because their body will create antibodies to attack the mismatching red blood cells.

Lead researcher Stephen Withers said his team discovered enzymes living in the human gut that can change blood into universally usable Type O. That could prevent immune reactions when patients receive the wrong type of blood.

To identify the enzymes, Withers collaborated with a colleague who uses metagenomics to study ecology.

Canadian Blood Services said 46 per cent of Canada's population has group-O blood, while 42 per cent is group A, nine per cent group B, and three per cent group AB.

The team considered sampling DNA from mosquitoes and leeches, the types of organisms that degrade blood, but ultimately found successful candidate enzymes in the human gut microbiome.

"We are now working to validate these enzymes and test them on a larger scale for potential clinical testing", they said.

Aside from turning blood Type A and B to universal blood type O, in what other ways could we rectify the growing demand for blood donations around the world?

"We knew that those same sugars that are on our red blood cells are also produced on the lining of the gut wall", Steve Withers told New Scientist, leading them to analyze the enzymes also present there.

Withers and his team previously developed enzymes that were capable of stripping away antigens, but this new kind is more powerful and efficient.

"If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood", he said.

In each group, there is a protein called the Rh factor, which is either positive or negative, resulting in eight blood types. Simpler, she said, would be getting more people to donate blood, particularly people with the O blood type.

The paper "Discovery of CAZYmes for cell surface glycan removal through metagenomics: Towards universal blood" will be presented today, Tuesday 21st August, at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Next, they tested the enzymes' effectiveness at removing the antigens from blood types A and B and found them to be 30 percent more effective than previous enzymes that been tested. "That's really important because we don't want to modify the red blood cell in some way that might compromise it", Withers said.

"You could see this being put into the bag at the time of collection, just sitting there doing its job", Withers said during the press conference. "We are hopeful that technology can support in alleviating numerous issues around blood shortages faced by blood collection centers such as Red Cross and others to meet patient needs".

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