New method could convert blood into most-needed type O

Sunday, May 6, 2007 | 8:43 a.m. CDT; updated 2:25 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
How to make universal red blood cells

A team of multi-national researchers has discovered a method to efficiently convert blood types A, B, and AB into universally acceptable type O, promising to reduce shortages and fatal blood transfusion errors.

Demand for type O is constantly high because of its use in emergency situations in which patients’ blood types are often not known.

Blood-type breakdown

Of the general population, these are the percentages of people of each blood type:
  • O positive: 38 percent; O negative: 7 percent
  • A positive: 34 percent; A negative: 6 percent
  • B positive: 9 percent; B negative: 2 percent
  • AB positive: 3 percent; AB negative: 1 percent

How to Donate blood:

American Red Cross Blood Center, 1511 S. Providence Road When: 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday How: Call (800) 448-3543 to make a donation appointment or for information on eligibility.

“Type O is the universal donor,” said Jim Williams, American Red Cross spokesman. “If you are in a trauma situation, emergency responders don’t have time to take your blood type so they give you O negative. Type O positive can go to 85 percent of the population.”

Blood types are identified by the expression of a complex sugar molecule, or antigen, on the red blood cell. Types A, B, and AB have different sugar molecules on them. People have antibodies to safely receive only their specific blood type so mismatches can be deadly. Type O blood does not have any such antigen on it so is safe for anyone to receive. Blood is then further classified into negative or positive based on the presence of an antigen similar to the one that determine A, B, AB, or O blood types.

The discovery, published in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology, uses an enzyme to remove the sugar molecule from blood to convert it to type O. While blood type conversion was first attempted in 1980s, previous efforts failed to effectively convert all type A blood and were too expensive to be commercially viable. The new method is said to effectively convert all blood types and do so with fewer costly enzymes though commercial use could still be years away.

For the time being, the Red Cross uses reminder calls and postcards to encourage year-round donors of whole blood, which has a shelf life of only 45 days.

“Summer is traditionally a very difficult time to collect blood,” Williams said. “People are traveling, on vacations, at company picnics. They’re busy.”

“You can donate whole blood every 56 days,” he said. “If we can encourage the people who give once a year to give twice a year and those that give twice a year to give more than that, there wouldn’t be a blood supply situation.”

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