Artificial Blood Powder Could One Day Save Lives

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Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have figured out a way to make artificial blood, and all it takes is mixing up water and small bag of powder.

The powdered artificial red blood, called ErythroMer, can pick up oxygen in the lungs and deliver it to tissues throughout the body. After more than 80 years of unsuccessful blood substitutions in medicine, researchers are now hoping to bring this life-saving transfusion product to trauma patients within the next 10 years.

blood-bags-91170_1920-2The tiny, synthetic cells are about two percent the size of a human red blood cell. They mimic  natural blood cells by holding onto oxygen and slowly releasing it as they circulate around the body. ErythroMer can be freeze-dried and stored at room temperature. Once mixed with water, it’s ready for use.

“It’s a dried powder that looks like paprika, basically. It can be stored in an IV plastic bag that a medic would carry, either in their ambulance or in a backpack, for a year or more,” Dr. Allan Doctor, lead researcher in the study told CBS News. “When they need to use it, they spike the bag with sterile water, mix it, and it’s ready to inject right then and there.”

Universal to All Blood Types

ErythroMer is made from purified human hemoglobin proteins that have been coated with a synthetic polymer, Doctor said. Hemoglobin is the component inside red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.

Allan Doctor, MD
Allan Doctor, MD

ErythroMer’s polymer coating is “immune silent” so anyone can use it regardless of their blood type, Doctor Said.

To date, the study has only been done in rodents. Further testing trials in rabbits and monkeys must first be done before human testing is possible. Also possibly lengthening the research time is the fact that sometimes animal testing produces different results in humans.

“It’s quite a long road,” Doctor said, “possibly as long as 10 years before we have definitive answers whether this will work in people.”

A Potential Lifesaver in Medical Emergencies

For paramedics, combat medics, trauma victims involved in accidents, or emergency workers transporting blood to remote locations, this groundbreaking discovery could potentially save millions of lives. Researchers reported that lab tests involving mice and rats proved that the artificial red blood cells efficiently delivered oxygen to needy tissues in the body.

“This could buy time for injured soldiers until they can get them to a hospital,” said Dr. Alan Mast, a senior investigator with the BloodCenter of Wisconsin’s  Blood Research Institute, but who was not involved in the study. “The product also could be useful in rural areas or areas where traumatic events occur and blood products aren’t readily available.”

However, researchers say ErythroMer is not a replacement for real blood because artificial blood cells cannot remain for anywhere near the length of time of natural blood cells.

“A normal red blood cell circulates about 120 days. This cell right now, we project circulation for about a third of a day to half a day,” Doctor said. “We may be able to manipulate that and get it up to a couple of days, but I seriously doubt we’ll be able to get to the circulation time of a normal red blood cell.”

Also, these artificial cells were only designed to deliver oxygen throughout the body. But natural red blood cells perform many functions throughout the body including antioxidant protection of tissues, regulation of blood flow, assistance in immune response, and aiding in formation of  blood clots and scabs.

“I think of these more as artificial oxygen carriers, because they’re not the same as red blood cells,” said Mast, who is also a past president of the American Society of Hematology. “Red blood cells can do many other physiologic things.”

This study is considered “preliminary” because it has not been published in a peer journal, but it will be presented at the annual American Society of Hematology meeting this week in San Diego.

Ronke Idowu Reeves
Ronke Idowu Reeves is a writer and journalist who hails from Brooklyn, NY. Her news and entertainment stories have appeared on WABC-TV-New York, Fox News Channel, VH1, BET.com plus in Sundance Film Festival’s Sundance Daily Insider and People Magazine.