Using genetic engineering techniques, researchers have created artificial hemoglobin that could someday alleviate perennial blood bank shortages. The achievement is reported in the November 21 issue of Biochemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
Hemoglobin - the vital component that carries life-supporting oxygen through the body - could be used in artificial blood transfused during surgeries and transplants, said Chien Ho, lead researcher from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. The method described in the research was used to produce small amounts of hemoglobin in a laboratory and needs to be improved, said Ho. But he believes the product is likely to be part of an eventual blood substitute.
Neither artificial blood nor its components are currently available. Several potential blood substitutes are being investigated, all of which incrementally advance development of an oxygen carrier, necessary for synthetic blood that could be safely used by people, Ho said. Because the population is aging and demand for blood is increasing - for surgeries, transfusions and to treat blood disorders - the need for a substitute is becoming urgent.
"There is an SOS for blood right now and that demand will only grow in the future," Ho said. "I am very excited about this research as a potential candidate in a blood substitute system. It shows great potential as a successful oxygen carrier, and is something that could realistically be used in people one day."
The researchers overcame problems that have plagued previous attempts to create oxygen carriers by building mutations into the hemoglobin molecule to enhance functioning. They allow it to act just like the hemoglobin molecule in regular human blood, Ho said. But like human blood, artificial hemoglobin would have to be replenished frequently.