Type-O blood is dubbed “universal” because it can be donated to someone with any blood type without the risk of a bad mismatched reaction. Giving someone blood from the wrong group can have life-threatening consequences It’s essential that hospitals be well stocked with blood type O.
As you can imagine, researchers have always looked for a way to convert any type of blood into type O. The secret may have been found in, of all places, enzymes from gut bacteria. Scientists from the University of British Columbia in Canada recently announced their promising findings at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.
“Blood type is determined by the presence of antigens on the surface of red blood cells. But, enzymes made by bacteria in the human digestive tract can strip the sugars that determine blood type from the surface of red blood cells in the lab in this study. That’s important, because those sugars, or antigens, can cause devastating immune reactions if introduced into the body of someone without that particular blood type. A few enzymes discovered in the past can change type B blood to type O, but the newly discovered group of enzymes are the first to effectively change type A to type O.
The researchers are planning to apply for a patent on the enzymes, and then to work with the Canadian Blood Services and Centre for Blood Research to test them on different types of blood.
“The next step is very much all about safety. There are further tests we need to do to make sure that in the process we’ve not inadvertently changed anything else on the red blood cell surface which could be deleterious to its function.”
The discovery is being called a potential “game-changer” because the demand for type-O blood is greater than the incidence of that blood-type in the population. The discovery might mean that there will no longer be shortages of type-O blood, as there are during the summer when more people are getting into car accidents.
Withers also said this will help expand the global blood supply, which will become more pressing due to the greater frequency of natural disasters.
“Our hope is that one day we can eventually render any type of donated blood, tissues or organs, safe for use by anyone regardless of their native blood type,” said Stephen Withers, the head researcher from the University of British Columbia.