Blood Shortage and Potential Life-Supporting


S., there chances for anyone receiving blood to die from it are 1-in-100,000. And what would be in the blood that would cause death? Besides the HIV virus, and blood-typing errors by medical technicians, a person could possibly get hepatitis from a blood transfusion. Becoming infected with hepatitis from a blood transfusion is possible, but unlikely: there is a 1-in-63,000 chance of getting hepatitis B, and a 1-in-103,000 chance of contracting hepatitis C, the New England Journal of Medicine reports.

To duplicate all the functions that blood performs in the human body would seem to be an impossible challenge. Any artificial blood product must pass several tests: It must be nontoxic, disease-free, and be "easily transportable." Also, it "cannot elicit an immune response" from the body and it must be adaptable to all blood types. Further, any substitute blood must stay in the body until the body can reproduce enough of its own blood to help the person survive. And lastly, synthetic blood ideally must have a "long shelf life" - even real human blood (as of the date the article was published, nearly six years ago) only stays fresh for up to 42 days.

Given all the above-mentioned criteria for imitation blood, researchers are approaching synthetic blood production from two distinct directions: one is based on chemicals, and the other is based on hemoglobin. The first, the chemical-based blood replacement solution, is being developed using "perfluorocarbons" (PFCs), which will be able, reportedly, to carry oxygen throughout the body. While "floating in the plasma," PFCs will collect oxygen from the lungs, and then travel throughout the rest of the body, where they then "diffuse out in the capillaries," and exchange the oxygen for carbon dioxide.

The second scenario for artificial blood, based on hemoglobin, is the subject of study by "far more" researchers than those working with PFCs. In order to function in the body, hemoglobin must contain 2,3-diphosphoglycerate (2-3-DPG) - present only in red blood cells. Scientists in Illinois are developing "PolyHeme," and "HemAssist," two potential solutions based on the reshaping of the hemoglobin molecule. In Colorado, a synthetic blood called "Optro" is under research, and "Biopure" - produced with cow's blood - is being developed in Massachusetts. And the fifth research effort based on hemoglobin is the work of the authors of the Scientific American article, Mary L. Nucci, and Abraham Abuchowski; their research, for New Paradigm Consulting, in Piscataway, New Jersey, is based on "bovine hemoglobin" (from a cow's blood). The latter research combines bovine hemoglobin with a polymer called PEG (polyethylene glycol), which is a possible source of help for stroke victims, and to attack tumors. But like all the other attempts to create artificial blood supplies, this particular substitute continues to be "plagued by lack of success," the article asserts. Each step forward seems to meet with a step backward. Still, the article states, blood substitutes "will be available in the near future."

Critique of the Article

Of course, this article was published in 1998, and no doubt, advances have been made in blood research over the last five and a half years. And even though it may be dated, the article creates the impression that this branch of science will not only yield, upon its successful fruition, a tremendously positive human impact; it will also have a very big up-side in terms of its economic impact. Estimates by the authors indicate the market for a workable, safe blood substitute in the U.S. is $5 billion. The article left the positive impression that the memorable day a safe, synthetic blood supply becomes available will usher in a new and vital industry. It will also usher in the creation of myriad blood-related jobs, in production, delivery, maintenance and marketing for thousands of Americans. And that new industry will grow quickly around the world; as the authors say, "The possibilities are endless."


Nucci, Mary L., &…