Blood loss resulting from traumatic injuries claims thousands of lives every year. Even when people survive, there are times when lack of oxygen in the blood damages the tissues permanently. Treating injuries where significant blood loss has occurred requires fresh blood.
If stored refrigerated, fresh blood lasts up to 42 days. However, if blood is left unrefrigerated, it becomes useless just after a couple of hours. Not all hospitals have easy access to fresh blood, especially in small towns and rural settings, and a substitute for blood could save many lives. Artificial blood is not just a fantasy anymore because experiments to manufacture the perfect blood have long begun in many labs across the globe.
For example, a Romanian research team has got encouraging results from their initial trials using synthetic blood they developed in the lab. Their blood composition includes albumin, water, salt and protein from marine worms. Hemerythrin, which is the iron protein found in marine worms, is responsible for transporting and storing oxygen in the blood. New findings reveal that hemerythrin offers the added benefit of making artificial blood resistant to stress.
In most of the earlier attempts at crating artificial blood in laboratories, one of the main problems that scientists faced was that they could not prevent the blood from turnin toxic. The reason that has been cited for this failure is that their blood formulas could not withstand stress factors. So far, hemerythrin serves as the only iron protein that has been successful in giving artificial blood resistance to stress factors.
The story in Dr. Allans’s lab in Washington is a bit different. He and his team have designed a blood substitute called ErythroMer which can be made in a powder form and freeze-dried to ensure safe storage for many years. So in case of an urgent transfusion, blood can be administered after mixing ErythroMer with sterile water, which takes only a few minutes.
Clinical trials are not finished yet, but if ErythroMer proves to be successful and gets approval by the FDA, it could be a great breakthrough. As the developers claim, their artificial blood will not affect the immune system adversely and thus it can be administered to any patient regardless of their blood type.
As of today, a few promising blood substitutes have been under development, but none has been approved so far. However, improvements have been made over years of research and findings, so there is a high chance that we’ll have an approved blood substitute – perhaps not even one – in the nearest future.