Substitute Blood, the Next Big Thing?

Author:  Corbaley Dean
Date:  November 2007

With the climbing demand for whole blood (blood containing all of its components), a new blood substitute may soon offer hope. Researchers at HemoBioTech have solved the problems that have been plaguing artificial blood for several decades. With this new development called HemoTech, the company is taking their product through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) trials and hope to have it on the market in a few years. Despite the massive benefits of this new substitute blood, it still has a few hurdles to overcome before we see it in wide use.

HemoBioTech, based in the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock and Dallas, is not making blood, blood cells or anything of that sort. They are restricting their research to isolating and stocking hemoglobin, the protein in blood that transports oxygen. Their rationale is that most people who have blood transfusions don't require most of the substances, including red blood cells, in the blood. Instead, they mostly need the hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a toxic protein by itself, and requires transportation by red blood cells to prevent it from breaking down. Hemoglobin in the blood system without red blood cells can cause damage to the kidneys, constrict blood vessels, and cause inflammation. For these reasons, it has been impossible to just add hemoglobin into persons in need of blood transfusions.

"Creating an effective substitute for human blood has been an elusive dream for many decades," says Jan Simoni, associate research professor in Texas Tech's surgery department and HemoBioTech's acting vice president for research and development.

Fortunately, these researchers have found a way to chemically alter non-human hemoglobin to make it non-toxic and able to survive in the blood stream. HemoTech, the modified hemoglobin, is created from bovine blood, which is much more abundant than human blood from donors. According to the World Health Organization, the demand for whole blood increases by one percent while donor numbers decrease by one percent each year.

If HemoTech passes FDA trials, it will be a great asset to medical facilities. It is not affected by blood type and even has a longer shelf life then normal blood. It also would not have to be screened for human diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis, but would still need to be screened for bovine diseases. All in all, a new plentiful source of better blood transfusion material would certainly help trauma patients and blood disease patients around the world.

Written by: Dean Corbaley

Reviewed by: HoiSee Tsao

Published by: Konrad Sawicki