New machine can convert any blood type into type O

BloodBlood mix-ups, though rare, are still one of the most feared mistakes in transfusion medicine. "It's the biggest threat today," says Dr. Kathleen Sazama, a transfusion expert at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Even an ounce of mismatched cells can trigger a potentially lethal immune response, causing blood clots and internal bleeding.

But now scientists at a Massachusetts biotech firm may be on the brink of eliminating most transfusion errors and ensuring a steady supply of blood to the nation's hospitals. Their solution is a device that converts all blood into type O, the most coveted of the four major blood types because it can be safely transfused into nearly any patient. "Press 'start,' and the machine does everything else," says Douglas Clibourn, the CEO of ZymeQuest.

The secret to the device, roughly the size of a dishwasher, is a pair of enzymes newly discovered by Henrik Clausen of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark that can cleave sugar molecules from the surface of the red blood cells. These molecules—called antigens—stud the cell membrane and determine whether someone is type A, B, AB or O. ZymeQuest's machine churns out eight units of type O every 90 minutes.

But the technology is far from perfected. Clinical trials must prove that the enzymes leave blood cells unscathed and that they convert all the cells in a unit of blood to type O. "This is the beginning," says D. Michael Strong, the vice president of the Puget Sound Blood Center in Seattle, one of the country's largest blood banks. "There's still a huge amount of work to be done."

Link & Image: Popular Science
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