Enzyme from Gut Bacteria Discovered to Turn Blood into Type O

Wednesday 22nd August 2018

Scientific Researchers from the University of British Columbia have discovered a way to reliably change donated blood into a type that can be used in blood transfusions for any person.

The enzymes alter properties in the blood cells which turn type-A blood into type-O blood, which can be accepted by anyone, irrespective of blood type without the risk of an adverse reaction or mismatch.

The way it works is by removing markers that are uniquely present on the surface of type-A blood cells but not type-O, which will stop the immune system from attacking it, assuming it is type-O blood.

The idea of using enzymes to change blood type isn’t entirely new, and has been researched for quite a long time, however gut bacteria is the most reliable and one that potentially does not require complicated preparation, as it works in whole blood, and hypothetically is a process that could be undertaken as the blood is stored, simply adding the enzymes and letting them do their work.

There are four major blood types for human beings, which are O, A, B and AB, based on inherited genes. The reactions from the immune system attacking transfused blood of the wrong type can lead to life-threatening side effects, including chills and fever, chest, muscle, abdominal or back pain, low blood pressure, bleeding and jaundice being other symptoms. What causes potential issues is that in emergency situations where a blood transfusion may be required, there is not always enough time to complete a full test to match blood, which makes type-O blood so vital to ensure people who need transfused blood can get it as soon as possible.

The problem is that the most compatible blood types are also the rarest, at around 7% of people in the UK having type-O negative blood. Anything that could be used to increase the amount of blood available in an emergency is vital, and the next steps will be determining safety and ensuring health standards are met through clinical trials.

Stephen Withers, one of the researchers, noted that it looks very promising, with the next stages being not about proof of effectiveness but proof of safety, working with the Canadian Blood Service to test more samples.

With the blood type being so rare, blood donations being and a huge amount of requests for type-O blood, this discovery is considered to be a very major development with a lot of promise. If it turns out to be the case, it has the potential to transform blood donation and transfusion, and with at least 6000 donors needed every single day for the NHS to be able to provide lifesaving treatment, anything that will allow more people to make a difference.