The Romanian province of Transylvania is a place already synonymous with blood. Transylvanian imagery of the immortal Dracula cheating death by the blood of the living has been horrifying people for centuries. Romania is rarely associated with technology, yet, it is in this small Eastern European country that such revolutionary advancements as insulin, cybernetics, and jet propulsion were quietly born.
Scientist from around the world have spent decades trying to create artificial blood. Prior studies attempted to create artificial blood using hemoglobin; an oxygen transporting protein already present in nearly all living creatures. The issue which had always been encountered was that hemoglobin doesn’t hold up well when pitted against physical and chemical stress found in the blood stream. Hemoglobin tended to break down and produce toxins; resulting in a lot of dead lab rats and little to no progress.
Meanwhile in Romania: a team of medical doctors lead by Dr. Radu Silaghi-Dumitrescu at Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, picked up the pieces of an age old puzzle, dusted them off and solved it with some out of box thinking. Instead of hemoglobin, they used hemerythrin with wonderful results. This incredibly resilient protein is derived from sea worms. Add some water and salt and you have an excellent medium for transporting oxygen that can withstand the biological environment of a living creature.
According to Dr. Silaghi-Dumitrescu
“Mice treated with this ‘Made in Cluj’ artificial blood did not experience any side effects, and this is precisely what we want.”
Silaghi-Dumitrescu sees a bright future for the use of hemerythrin, stating that:
“Doctors can use the artificial blood to reduce infection rates during blood donation, and to supply lost stores in patients for several hours or even up to a day.”
Hemerythrin appears to be a viable substitute for human blood in future transfusions. Doctors could simply add water to a dry mixture of hemerythrin to make “instant blood” and use it to treat patients endangered by blood loss. With a longevity of 10 – 24 hours, hemerythrin could be used to supply vital oxygen to the blood stream while the patient’s body replaced blood lost from surgery or injury.
According to The Red Cross: in the US alone, a blood transfusion is needed every 2 seconds. 41,000 blood donations are required every day to meet demand. If approved, this hemerythrin based substitute could eradicate shortages.
The Romanian team intends to continue animal studies and is planning human trials in just two years time. If Romanian scientists are able to prove that Hemerythrin based artificial blood is safe for human use, people could see it being used in hospitals in the near future.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
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