May 24, 2024 at 12:37 pm

Universal Donor Blood Could Be Within Reach Thanks To A Bacteria Found In Our Guts

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

The recent pandemic reminded all of us how important donor blood is, and how we are collectively always a little too close to running out.

Scientists have been working on ways to make all blood types able to be transfused “universally” to bridge the gap, and thanks to a recent enzyme discovery, they could be closer than ever.

There are 45 known blood group systems that depend on the presence of 362 antigens on red blood cells.

The ABO ground and the rhesus (Rh) antigen are the most important. You might have A, AB, B, or O blood, and each type can also be positive or negative.

But researchers have discovered enzymes that can remove the sugars that make up the A and B antigens, and the B in particular looks to be able to be made universal.

Source: Shutterstock

Senior author Professor Maher Abou Hachem sounds excited about the potential.

“For the first time, the new enzyme cocktails not only remove the well-described A and B antigens, but also extended variants previously not recognized as problematic for transfusion safety. We are close to being able to produce universal blood from group B donors, while there is still work to be done to convert the more complex group A blood. Our focus is now to investigate in detail if there are additional obstacles and how we can improve our enzymes to reach the ultimate goal of universal blood production.”

The enzymes are derived from a bacterium that lives in our gut called Akkermansia muciniphila. It feeds by breaking down our intestinal mucous, which resemble the complex sugars found in the blood.

Researchers think this means the bacteria could be used to make universal blood.

“What is special about the mucosa is that bacteria, which are able to live on this material, often have tailor-made enzymes to break down mucosal sugar structures, which include blood group ABO antigens. This hypothesis turned out to be correct.”

The team extracted 24 enzymes from the bacteria and used them to processed blood stampes. They worked with researchers at Lund University to apply for a patent and are working on a joint process to keep testing more enzymes.

Image Credit: Mathias Jensen, postdoc at DTU

Professor Martin L. Olsson, study co-author, says they then plan to move on to controlled patient trials.

“Universal blood will create a more efficient utilization of donor blood, and also avoid giving ABO mismatched transfusions by mistake, which can otherwise lead to potentially fatal consequences in the recipient. When we can create ABO-universal donor blood, we will simplify the logistics of transporting and administering safe blood products, while at the same time minimizing blood waste.”

This definitely sounds super exciting.

Imagine never running out of much-needed blood again!

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