Gut Enzyme Could Help Solve US Blood Shortages

Gut Enzyme Could Help Solve US Blood Shortages

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.

Researcher Stephen Withers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) is particularly interested in enzymes that can remove A or B antigens from red blood cells, saying "If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood".

People with type O-negative blood are known as universal donors, meaning they can give to anyone with any blood type.

To figure out which enzymes would be the best candidate, Dr Withers and his colleague at UBC employed a technique called metagenomics, which is the study of genetic material of microbial communities present in environmental samples. Using type O negative blood in transfusions doesn't lead to risky reactions in the patient. Their search for that enzyme took them into the human gut. Type A has A antigens, type B has B antigens and type AB has both.

The team considered sampling DNA from mosquitoes and leeches, the types of organisms that degrade blood, but ultimately found successful candidate enzymes in the human gut microbiome.

"The idea was demonstrated for B blood back in 1982, but the enzymes they had available then were so slow and inefficient it was never going to be a practical approach", Withers said. Some of these sugars have the same structure as the antigens on A- and B-type blood. The team identified which enzymes bacteria use to absorb these sugars off mucin molecules, and report that they are 30 times as effective in removing red blood antigens compared to any previous candidate.

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While type-O patients can receive only type-O red cell transfusions, type-O donations are compatible with all other ABO types.

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

In laboratory tests, the enzymes were able to completely convert blood type A to O.

"The next step is very much all about safety", he said.

Burn and accident victims as well as patients undergoing surgery are all dependent on the availability of blood and platelets, but with critically low blood supplies, they may not be able to receive treatment, Healthline noted.

"It looks like it completely converted to O", Withers said. If successful, the discovery would essentially make most types of blood accessible to those who need it, regardless of their blood type. "We are hopeful that technology can support in alleviating numerous issues around blood shortages faced by blood collection centers such as Red Cross and others to meet patient needs. That's really important because we don't want to modify the red blood cell in some way that might compromise it", Withers said.

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