The quest for artificial blood

Commonly referred to as the holy grail of trauma medicine, artificial blood capable of carrying oxygen and safe for human use has remained an elusive goal. Hemoglobin-based blood substitutes, once believed to hold promise, were revealed in studies to be toxic to human organs. And while temporary blood products and platelet substitutes are now in clinical trials, a true blood substitute has been just out of reach.

New promise

However, according to Asahi Shimbun, research published in the American Association of Blood Banks’ magazine Transfusion reveals that a team from Japan's National Defense Medical College Hospital has developed an artificial blood and successfully tested it in rabbits.

The artificial blood developed by the Japanese research team of Drs. Kohsuke Hagisawa, Manabu Kinoshita, Masato Takikawa, Shinji Takeoka, Daizoh Saitoh, Shuhji Seki and Hiromi Sakai comprises both artificial red blood cells and artificial platelets. These are respectively composed of oxygen-carrying substances and substances which stop bleeding, encapsulated in vesicles called liposomes. When they transfused the blood to critically injured rabbits, six of the ten rabbits survived, which is a similar survival rate for rabbits receiving transfusions of real blood. There was neither blood coagulation nor any other negative side effect from the procedure.

Normally, oxygen-carrying red blood cells can be stored at low temperatures for a total of 20 days while platelets needed to clot wounds, while viable at room temperature, can only be stored for a total of four days and need to be continuously agitated. Moreover, emergency technicians are unable to conduct blood transfusions without knowing the patient's blood type.

However, this artificial blood can be stored at room temperature for over one full year and is not dependent on blood type. If commercialized, hospitals would be able to transfuse it to patients before they reach the hospital, thus significantly increasing their survival rate.

National Defense Medical College Associate Professor Manabu Kinoshita of the team commented: "There are remote islands and other areas where blood cannot be adequately prepared. With artificial blood, we will be able to save lives which could not previously be saved."

The Transfusion article outlining the team's research can be accessed here.

By - Ben K.

© The Asahi Shimbun Company
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