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