Written by Matt Farley
New research from McGill University in Canada could do away with the need to classify blood by ‘type’, following a new technique to prevent mismatched blood from being rejected after a transfusion.
Along with the well-known A, B and O blood groups, there are a further 26 different blood types which have to be matched carefully when carrying out a blood transfusion – a mismatch can lead to the donated blood being rejected by the body which can be fatal. The ideal situation is for a ‘universal’ blood type which would be compatible with any recipient blood type.
Rejection occurs when the antigens on the surface of the donor red blood cells are of a different type to those on the recipient’s cells – previous attempts at avoiding this have focused on either removing the surface antigens from the donated blood using enzymes, or producing the blood outside the body from stem cells. These techniques have shown some success, but are hindered by their expense and complexity. The latest method, presented by Dr. Maryam Tabrizian and colleagues, instead aims to cover up the antigens and hide them from the host immune system – known as ‘immunocamouflage’.
Red blood cells from a selection of volunteers were coated in a layer of polyelectrolytes – small repeating units which self-assemble on the cell surface. Previous attempts at coating cells in this way using yeast and E.coli had shown promise, but it remained to be seen whether the delicate red blood cells would be able to withstand the process.
After coating, the cells were exposed to their opposite antibody and observed for any agglutination, or clumping of cells, that occurred. The coated cells were shown to remain free after addition of the antibody, suggesting that the antibodies had failed to recognise and bind the cell surface antigens. This was in contrast to the uncoated cells, which clumped together in the manner normally seen when mismatched blood samples are mixed.
Perhaps most importantly, the red blood cells showed no significant reduction in their ability to take up oxygen, implying that they would still be able to carry out their function within the body. The cells were also seen to produce ATP, an energy carrier – a good sign that metabolism was also functioning as normal.
It remains to be seen whether the technique will be as effective when tested in a living organism, but the results obtained so far appear promising. If effective, future blood transfusions could become a lot easier, and a lot less dangerous.
The paper accompanying this article is available online:
Red blood cells