New scientific breakthrough means donor blood could be converted into universal O type

It’s a scary thought but if you ever need blood, it could be dire if the hospital does not have your blood type. This is where a new scientific breakthrough comes in – scientists have found a way to convert A and B-type blood to O, the universal blood type.

According to the study, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, scientists have found a way to modify an enzyme that differentiates A and B blood from O-type.

The antigens (sugars on the surface of red blood cells) determine which blood you can accept and who you can give blood to. And although type O can be given to anyone as the blood cells have neither antigen, all other types of blood can cause life-threatening immune reactions if given to the wrong patient.

This breakthrough has been explored since the 1980s when team of scientists in New York were able to extract an enzyme from green coffee beans, thus removing B antigens from red blood cells. Further clinical trials showed that the blood could be safely transfused to people of a different blood group. But they ran into problems when the enzyme reaction was simply far too inefficient.

Fast forward 30 years and scientists from the University of British Columbia have created a new enzyme that could potentially solve this problem. It works in just the same way, by snipping off the problem antigens, and effectively turning A and B blood into type O.

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As Steve Withers, one of the researchers explains, “The concept is not new but until now we needed so much of the enzyme to make it work that it was impractical. Now I’m confident that we can take this a whole lot further”.

Further research and testing is required to make sure the enzyme completely removes all antigens, making the A and B blood type safe to use on everyone who needs it. Despite this, the mere knowledge that science is progressing to this point is fantastic news for those who need blood transfusions and the Red Cross, who do a fantastic job facilitating blood donation clinics and vans around the country and world.

Tell us below, have you ever donated blood? Have you ever needed a transfusion?