Between scheduled operations, routine transfusions, and emergency operations someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds. Unfortunately, however, recipients can’t just accept any blood; patient and donor blood types must be compatible. Until now, Type O blood was the only red cell universal donor, but researchers analyzing bacteria in the human gut have discovered that microbes there produce two enzymes that can convert Type A blood into a universally accepted type, Science magazine reports.
“This is a first, and if these data can be replicated, it is certainly a major advance,” Harvey Klein, a blood transfusion expert at the National Institutesof Health’s Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Previous research had been conducted on Type A blood, but had been met with little success. After 4 years, a team from the University of British Columbia decided, rather than continue to try and adapt the known enzyme capable of removing “A-defining” antigens, to look to human gut bacteria for a better solution. While initially the team did not see much success, when they tested two enzymes at once, the sugar molecules that define a blood type were effectively removed.
“They findings are very promising in terms of their practical utility,” Mohandra Narla, a red blood cell physiologist at the New York Blood Center, said. While more testing will need to be done to ensure that all Type A antigens have been completely removed, if this research proves truly successful, the availability of “universal” donor blood could nearly double.