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Artificial blood may become a reality in the future

December 21, 2016

During an emergency, having blood on hand for transfusions is critical. But blood needs proper refrigeration, making on the spot care a difficult task. But what if paramedics were equipped with bags of powdered blood cells that could be combined with water and immediately distributed?

It may sound like science fiction, but doctors are working to develop artificial blood cells that could save lives down the line.

“Transfusion medicine is challenged by the limitations arising from storage of red blood cells, which are a living tissue, that must be kept cold, have a shelf-life of only 42 days, and must be used within about four hours of removal from refrigeration,” says Dr. Allan Doctor, a professor of pediatrics, biochemistry, and molecular biophysics at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.

Doctor and his colleagues have developed an artificial blood substitute called ErythroMer. The research is in the very early stages, but the researchers have so far shown promising results in a proof of concept study in mice. They were able to show that when mice were inserted with ErythroMer, the artificial blood was able to deliver oxygen to tissues in the same way as normal mice blood. They were also able to use ErythroMer to resuscitate rats that were in shock and had lost about 40% of their blood, Medscape reports.

Doctor presented the work in early December at the American Society of Hematology 58th Annual Meeting.

Much more study is needed before it can be determined if the artificial blood cells could be used in humans, but Doctor says he envisions ErythroMer could transform care for situations like military casualties or for people that need to be resuscitated before reaching a hospital.

“Next steps are to confirm our promising findings in a larger animal model, screen and address any toxicities, scale production, and eventually test for safety and efficacy in humans,” says Doctor.