Transforming all donated blood into a universal type

Blood Donations Made Easy: Scientists Discover Blood-Altering Enzyme That Could Turn Anyone Into A Universal Donor

Thousands of people require blood transfusions every day, but the donor’s blood type has to match that of the recipient, or it could be fatal. Though there’s one exception, the “universal” Type O blood, which can be donated to anyone without risk.

Now, a team of Canadian scientists has found a way to transform Types A and B blood into a neutral type (similar to type O) that can be given to any patient.

The researchers, who are University of British Columbia chemists and scientists in the Centre for Blood Research, created an enzyme that could potentially solve the problem of one not having the right blood match.

According to UBC Science, the enzyme snips off the sugars (or antigens) that are found in Type A and Type B blood, making them more like Type O.

This “universal” Type O blood does not contain either A antigens (found in Type A) or B antigens (found in Type B) and so it would not trigger an immune system response when given to people with Type A, Type B, or Type AB blood.

“We produced a mutant enzyme that is very efficient at cutting off the sugars in A and B blood, and is much more proficient at removing the subtypes of the A-antigen that the parent enzyme struggles with,” said David Kwan, the lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The researchers accomplished this by using a new technique called directed evolution, which involves using bacteria to create a super high-powered antigen-snipping enzyme and inserting particular mutations into the gene to make the enzyme more powerful. This enzyme was found to become 170 times more effective in just five generations.

According to the scientists, they were able to remove most of the antigens in Type A and B blood with the enzyme. However, before clinical trials can begin, they still need to tweak the enzyme further so all the antigens would be fully removed. This is because even if there is just a small amount of antigens left over, a life-threatening immune system response could activate in the recipient.

“The concept is not new but until now we needed so much of the enzyme to make it work that it was impractical,” noted Steve Withers, research member and a UBC professor in the Department of Chemistry. “Now I’m confident that we can take this a whole lot further.”

Based on their findings, the researchers also believe that the new advancement could allow for tissue and organ transplants between unmatched donors and recipients. So in the near future, the wait-list for donors may dramatically lessen, as anyone could become a universal donor.

[Image via Science Alert]