According to the World Health Organisation, 42 percent of the world’s blood donations are collected in high-income countries, which house just 16 percent of the world’s population.
That means in places like India, blood is a scarce commodity when sorely needed. In fact according to a 2017 report, India has an annual blood shortage of 30 lakh units.
With a population of over 1.3 billion people, India requires blood donations of at least over 12 million units a year. In 2016, we got just 10.9. One top of that, we don’t exactly have the best healthcare infrastructure, especially in remote villages. So when someone is in need of blood and have no viable donors among family members or friends, there’s a good chance they won’t get what they need.
That’s why this latest bit of research from the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland (US) is so important. The researchers there have figured out a way to avoid some of the medical restrictions involved with blood donations.
You see, recipients can’t make use of just any blood donation. The blood types of the donor and patient need to compatible. For instance, people with type A can donate to those with type A and AB, and those with B to B and AB, and so on. In that way, people with type O blood are universal donors and AB are universal recipients
Breakthrough of Type A blood as universal donor
The researchers however might be able to change that. They’ve been studying bacteria in the human gut and discovered that these microbes produced two enzymes capable of converting type A blood into a more universally accepted type.
Blood type is usually defined by strange sugar molecules on the surface of a person’s red blood cells called antigens. When receiving incompatible blood, these antigens can misconstrue it as a foreign toxin, and thus mount an attack via the immune system. Basically, the blood effectively kills itself trying to deal with this “invader”.
Type O cells however lack these antigens, and the scientists believe the enzymes they’ve discovered can strip such antigens away from other blood types. At least, they have an idea about how to do it for type A blood for now.
It still requires a lot of research and experimentation, but the possibility does exist. And if this theory pans out, it could save millions of lives each year. In situations where doctors don’t have time to determine a patient’s blood type, or perhaps there’s a shortage of the type they need, this process could potentially provide life-saving blood to them regardless of what’s at hand.