How Blood Substitutes May be the Solution to Blood Donation That’s in Short Supply

If you’ve ever watched an episode of the HBO series “True Blood,” you’re familiar with the idea of using synthetic blood to replace real blood. In real life, of course, synthetic blood wouldn’t be used as a vampire deterrent, rather it would be used to provide blood transfusions to people who needed it — like patients with sickle cell — if actual blood was in short supply.

And according to the Association of Donor Recruitment Professionals, the cache of donated blood tends to decrease during the winter months.

Now, this concept isn’t exactly new. In fact, there have been several blood substitutes created and tested over the past few decades; however, there is no blood substitute that is currently approved for use on humans in the U.S. That may all change in the next few years, though. As early as 2017, the Universities of Oxford, Bristol, and Cambridge will run a human clinical trial in which 20 people will given “blood” that has been created in a lab, reports the BBC. If the trial is a success, that will not only open up more options for blood transfusions when the supply is low, but it will also help better treat patients with more hard-to-match blood types, since the synthetic blood will work as O negative.

Smithsonian magazine clarifies, “Blood substitutes don’t aim to replace real blood, they simply fill one of bloods’ roles: transporting oxygen. Some do this by just mimicking hemoglobin. Others are entirely novel, synthetic oxygen carriers.” According to the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, other benefits of synthetic blood include:

1) No immune system reactions.
2) No risk of infectious disease transmission.
3) Longer shelf life — from one to three years, sans refrigeration.
4) Doesn’t infringe on some patients’ religious beliefs.

We still have a few years until we find out whether or not a new blood substitute will be approved for human use, but knowing that we’re one step closer is a great achievement.

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