Scientists say enzyme found in human body can transform blood types

Scientists say enzyme found in human body can transform blood types

Scientists say enzyme found in human body can transform blood types

For the past years, researchers have tried to find the safest and most effective way to remove the antigens from blood Type A and Type B that prevent them from being donated to non-matching blood types.

The discovery could make blood donation simpler as people with Type O negative blood are considered universal donors meaning they can donate blood to anyone. Using type-O negative blood in transfusions doesn't lead to risky, possibly life-threatening, reactions in the patient.

Withers and his colleagues - UBC microbiologist Steven Hallam and pathologist Jay Kizhakkedathu from UBC's Centre for Blood Research - are applying for a patent on the new enzymes and are hoping to test them with the help of Canadian Blood Services on a larger scale in the future, in preparation for clinical testing. This led his team to look for the enzyme in the human gut. In some targeted situations in which type O blood is scarce, the ability to transform one type to another could come in handy, Ziman told Live Science.

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"I am O-negative and know how rare and valuable this blood type is for the NHS", she said.

After looking at millions of micro-organisms, the researchers determined that the environment in which the desired enzymes might be found is the mucosal lining of the human gut, which contains sugars similar in structure to blood antigens. What's more, these enzymes were 30 times more effective at stripping off A antigens than the best-performing enzyme previously suggested for this objective, Withers reported. "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 researchers presented their results today at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Boston, Massachusetts.

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The next step is to use a protein engineering technique called "directed evolution" to simulate speeded-up natural evolution in the bacteria, with the goal of creating the most efficient sugar-removing enzyme, Withers said. "If you can remove those antigens, which are just simple sugars, then you can convert A or B to O blood", stated Dr. Withers. Whereas, other donated blood types can only be used on people who share the same type.

Because of type-O negative's universality, it is useful in emergency surgery, for instance, when there isn't time to test for a patient's blood type.

"You could see this being put into the bag at the time of collection, just sitting there doing its job", Withers said during the press conference. The team, he says, is very optimistic on the potential of their enzyme candidate. "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".

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