A newly discovered gut enzyme is being hailed as a possible solution to blood unit shortages thanks to the fact it can alter blood types.
According to Newsweek, a new report on the discovery was made during a meeting of the American Chemical Society on Tuesday. Steve Withers of the University of British Colombia made the announcement.
With the discovery, a particular bacterial enzyme that is present within the human stomach is able to transform a specific blood type to the universal blood type of O negative. The O negative blood type is used extensively in blood transfusions because it can be used in replacement of all blood types. Whereas, other donated blood types can only be used on people who share the same type.
As Newsweek points out, there are four blood types: A, B, AB, and O. In addition, there is the protein called the RH factor which is what determines whether a person has a positive or negative blood type. Those who possess the RH factor are considered as having a positive blood type. Those without this factor have a negative blood type.
The reason the O blood type is considered a universal blood type when it comes to blood donations is because it is lacking in both the A and B type antigens. These antigens are a type of sugar that is part of the blood’s make up.
“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.
Now, as Live Science points out, scientists have managed to locate a gut enzyme that is capable of eating the A and B type antigens, or sugars, making it possible to, effectively, strip the blood type away so that it becomes, in effect, an O negative blood type.
“This technique could broaden the utility of the current blood supply because O type blood can be donated to anybody,” Withers explains.
The plan is to do further testing on this gut enzyme in order to make sure there are no adverse side effects as a result of the process. Then, it will likely be implemented in blood banks so that they have the option of stripping out the blood type identifier and making these units a universal blood type when necessary.
This is not the first time scientists have been able to alter blood types. As Live Science points out, previously an enzyme-altered blood was possible. However, it was only able to convert B type blood and was considered too expensive to be viable. Newsweek also points out that other techniques are already in use but these methods are incredibly slow and the newly found gut enzyme is considered to be approximately 30 times faster than these existing techniques.