Researchers from the University of British Columbia have found a way to convert blood types. The research could significantly improve blood transfusions around the world.
American Red Cross notably announced a blood shortage in July. The organization said that they are not receiving enough blood donations to help people who need blood. However, the new discovery by researchers led by Stephen Withers might be the key to solve the problem.
Different Blood Types
People have one out of four blood types — A, B, AB, and O. Because of this, doctors have limitations in transfusing blood to patients, especially considering how people's blood types vary across the world.
If a patient is transfused with blood that does not match their own, it can cause health problems that could result to death. This is because the immune system sees the blood as foreign invaders and attacks it as an effort to cleanse it out of the body.
For instance, a patient with type A blood could not receive type B blood because the sugars differ. If this happens, their body would just reject it. Because blood type O does not contain any sugars, anyone is eligible to receive it. This is why it is considered as the universal blood type.
"We have been particularly interested in enzymes that allow us to remove the A or B antigens from red blood cells. If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood," stated Dr. Withers.
Enzymes As Catalyst
Researchers have discovered that some enzymes, which are molecular biological catalysts, can aid in eradicating sugars from blood types AB, B, and A. This would convert it to blood type O.
Despite this, Withers reported that before the success of the research, they had not discovered an enzyme was safe, cheap, and effective. This led his team to look for the enzyme in the human gut.
"Scientists have pursued the idea of adjusting donated blood to a common type for a while, but they have yet to find efficient, selective enzymes that are also safe and economical," he added.
The team isolated an enzyme that removes sugars from blood types B and A, which enables its conversion to type O. This method is astonishingly 30 times more effective than the previous enzyme. Withers' team assessed the enzyme through a process called metagenomics.
"With metagenomics, you take all of the organisms from an environment and extract the sum total DNA of those organisms all mixed up together," said Dr. Withers.
The team presented their research at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. ACS is known as the biggest scientific society in the world.