Scientists step closer to making universal blood

Researchers use gut bacteria to turn type A or B blood into universal donors

Researchers, from the University in British Columbia in Canada, however, say they've discovered an enzyme found in the human gut that could covert other blood types in type O - potentially putting an end to the massive blood shortage.

Whereas type A or B blood can only receive transfusions from (or make donations to) others with the same blood type, medical professionals can use type O blood with any of the three other major blood types: A, B, or O. Type AB, the other of the four major blood types, works in reverse; it can receive blood from any other type but only donate to others who are type AB.

Scientists have been studying the use of enzymes to modify blood since 1982, said Withers.

"Antigens can trigger an immune response if they are foreign to the body, so transfusion patients should receive either their own blood type, or type O to avoid a reaction", he said.

Withers and his colleagues plan to apply for a patent on the newly identified enzymes and are set to work with Canadian Blood Services and the Centre for Blood Research to test them on different types of blood from a variety of donors.

Scientists claim they may have identified gut bacteria that could convert blood types A and B into type O.

They considered analyzing mosquitoes and leeches, which naturally degrade blood, but ultimately found good candidates in the enzymes of bacteria that live in the human gut and that aid in digestion.

But O-blood, specifically O-negative, are the universal donors because they lack A and B antigens.

After looking at millions of microorganisms, they determined that the environment in which the desired enzymes might be found is the mucosal lining of the human gut, which contains sugars that are similar in structure to blood antigens.

Using this approach, Withers and team were able to home in on enzymes used by bacteria to remove sugars from glycosylated proteins called mucins that line the gut wall. "However, these new enzymes can do the job 30 times better". The Red Cross had to call for blood donations this January after the raging storms and the universal O type blood was in great need.

The research team's findings were presented at the 256th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition held on August 19-23 in Boston, Massachusetts.

"It just becomes another step and another cost", Ziman said.

Due to that benefit, O-negative is always in demand, as doctors can give transfusions in emergency situations without having to know a patient's 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).

"This technique could broaden the utility of the current blood supply because O type blood can be donated to anybody", Withers explains.

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