In a breakthrough that could save thousands of lives, scientists have found a way to convert all blood types to the universal type that is safe for all patients to receive, by using microbes found in the human gut.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia have figured out how to convert blood types A, B and AB into the universal Type O, which all patients can receive in a transfusion, regardless of their own blood type.
Blood types are differentiated by the kinds of sugar found on the surface of red blood cells. Type O has no sugars. Scientists had realized that some enzymes can remove the sugars from A, B and AB blood cells, turning them into Type O, but they hadn’t found an enzyme that was safe, efficient and economical, until they considered the gut.
The human digestive tract has the same sugars found on blood cells, and bacterial enzymes found in feces strip the sugars from the lining to aid digestion. The scientists were able to isolate the enzyme and use it to strip blood of its sugars in a more efficient way than any other enzyme.
The scientists made the exciting discovery last August, but have just published the results of their research in the journal Nature Microbiology.
The next step is for the team to test the enzyme conversion in a clinical setting to see if there are any side effects of the procedure. If none are found, the future of blood donation will change for the better.