Artificial human blood substitute could help meet donor blood shortfall


June 10, 2014

An artificial blood substitute being developed at the University of Essex could help overcome the worldwide shortfall in blood donations (Photo: Shutterstock)

An artificial blood substitute being developed at the University of Essex could help overcome the worldwide shortfall in blood donations (Photo: Shutterstock)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 107 million blood donations are collected around the globe every year, most of which goes on to help save lives. However, while the need for blood is global, much of that which is donated is not accessible to many who need it, such as those in developing countries. And of the blood donated in industrialized countries, the amount often falls short of requirements. To help address this imbalance, scientists at the University of Essex are developing an artificial blood substitute that would provide a benign, virus-free alternative for blood transfusions.

The artificial blood substitute being developed by the University of Essex's Haem02 project would be able to be stored at room temperatures for up to two years, which would allow it to be distributed worldwide without the need for refrigeration and make it immediately accessible at the site of natural disasters. Best of all, as a claimed universal blood replacement it could be administered to anyone, regardless of blood type.

"It means we could overcome some of the inherent problems with transfusions as there would be no need for blood group typing and a longer shelf life means you are able to stockpile the supplies necessary for major disasters," explained Professor Cooper, a biochemist and blood substitute expert who is leading the research project. "It also offers the opportunity for routine transfusion support in ambulances or at remote inaccessible locations."

Effectively, the artificial blood substitute is a human blood oxygen carrier (HBOC) that emulates a red blood cell’s role in the human body by transporting oxygen throughout the tissues. Other research in this field has been carried on for some 25 years, with much of it failing due the fact that haemoglobin (the protein in our blood cells that carries oxygen) can be toxic to the body if allowed outside of the protective environment of the red blood cell. The designers of the product being engineered at the University of Essex claim to have overcome this problem by allowing its HBOC to be detoxified by the body’s own defenses.

More work is required before the artificial blood substitute is commercially viable, but after being allocated over £1.5 million (US$2.5 million) from the Medical Research and Biological Sciences Research Councils, the research team is closer to achieving its goal. In the meantime, the team's artificial blood substitute has been granted patents in the US and Australia and has a patent pending in the EU.

Source: University of Essex

About the Author
Colin Jeffrey Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf. All articles by Colin Jeffrey

I think that is great news. It would be great for areas where blood donations are lacking and for those who don't want to get others blood (beliefs or just fear of getting disease).


...and my twisted head goes right to the vampire jokes........


This would be just great for people with really rare type of blood. Wonder how it would work for thalassaemia patients who require blood transfusion on a regular basis for their life time.


If they succeed in producing artificial blood, it will represent a huge step forward in medicine, but will be faced with scrutiny and skepticism for the foreseeable future, especially in developed countries.

Many people are naturally weary with GMO's and all sorts of other man-made solutions that could become a nightmare in the years ahead. A careful and definitive research is absolutely essential. Will this be suitable for animal testing or are humans going to be the guinea pigs? Very touchy indeed.


After the large donations after 9/11 and soon after the revelations of massive misuse of donated funds by the American Red Cross (things like redecorating offices and restrooms with money donated for WTC families and cleanup), and that most of the donated blood was just disposed of without any attempt to preserve it (they freeze it), the public got pretty skeptical about the whole thing.

Then there's the fact that the ARC doesn't pay a cent for any of the blood they get but they make a huge profit off it. Yet another thing they've done to drive up the cost is running 100% of the donated blood through a leukoreduction process even though only 10% or less of people needing a transfusion need leukoreduced blood.

The American Red Cross makes quite a lot of profit for a supposedly "non profit" organization.

Gregg Eshelman

@ Gregg Eshelman Ok but which 10%. If I line up 100 people can you tell me which ten and when and where they will need the blood.

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