Cod inspire potentially life-saving cold storage tech for human blood


February 4, 2014

Polymers similar to the proteins found in this Arctic cod could dramatically improve the cryogenic storage of blood

Polymers similar to the proteins found in this Arctic cod could dramatically improve the cryogenic storage of blood

How is it possible that cold-blooded fish such as cod can live in Arctic waters without just freezing solid? As it turns out, they've got proteins in their bloodstream that act as a sort of antifreeze. British scientists have now copied the fashion in which those proteins work, to create a process by which donated human blood could be frozen for storage, then quickly made available for transfusion.

Although it is already possible to store blood cryogenically, it requires the addition of an organic solvent in as high as a 1:1 ratio, before the freezing occurs. What's more, that solvent must be removed from the blood once thawed, in a process that can take up to several days. In emergencies, there typically aren't several days to spare.

As an alternative to such solvents, researchers at the University of Warwick are instead looking to polyvinyl alcohol. The synthetic polymer functions like the cod's antifreeze, and is derived from wood glue.

Like the solvents, it keeps cell-rupturing ice crystals from forming as the blood thaws. Unlike the solvents, however, it can stay in the blood without causing any harm. This means that as soon as the blood is thawed, it's ready to go.

Additionally, less of it is required – about 0.1 percent of the volume of the blood.

The university is now working on commercializing the technology, which could conceivably also find use in cell-based therapies and research projects. A paper on the scientists' findings was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of Warwick

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Storing blood is a bit old fashion. Synthetic blood expanders work far better and they are much safer. Selling real blood for profit is however still big business


Wow, it seems like this has big implications for cryonics. It's quite an improvement over the cryoprotectants currently used!

Joe Strout

@ donwine I haven't heard of any that clot properly.


There are more than 30 alternatives to blood as far back as 2006. They include cauterizing blood vessels, covering organs with a special gauze that releases chemicals that inhibit bleeding, and using blood-volume expanders. Blood is so unique to an individual that anti rejection medicines are needed for a precipitant. Substitutes do not have these problems along many deadly ones involving foreign blood. Recovery is much faster these. Remember - no one dies from blood use because the reports always read: "death due to complications." So many people are requesting alternatives these days, because of the high success rates, that this surgery is now routine.


This was in a recent newspaper: "Blood transfusions were a standard part of many medical treatments for decades, and demand grew steadily, but in recent years physicians and researchers began to question the practice.

After poring over records, medical researchers found that many transfusions were unnecessary and may have inhibited the healing process. The American Medical Association said in 2012 that blood transfusions were one of the top five most overused medical treatments.

"While blood transfusions can be life saving, they also carry risks that range from mild complications to death," said the AMA report, which also included heart stents and antibiotics in the overuse category.

Cindy Kuehn, administrative director of laboratories at Orlando Regional Medical Center, said her medical complex has been cutting back for three years. The operation has reduced transfusions by 9 percent this year versus last, she said.

"They're just finding overwhelming evidence that patients do better [without transfusions]," Kuehn said."


donwine, this process makes saving your own blood much easier and safer as well as making it possible to use autologous blood in an emergency. Whole, exact-match blood like that is better than blood expanders.

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