Scientists Close To Creating Antigen-Free Universal Blood Type

A representative image of a volunteer donating a pint of blood during a blood drive

Researchers at University of British Columbia's (UBC) Centre for Blood Research claim to have created a mutant enzyme that could enable changing any donated blood to antigen-free O– (O-negative) type blood which can be given to patients of all blood types.

The main difference between the different blood groups A, B, AB and O is the presence or absence of certain antigens (proteins or sugars) attached to the surface of blood cells. Enzymatic removal of all of the antigens yields universal O– type blood.

This idea is nothing new except that it initially seemed impractical due to the inefficiency of the enzyme obtained from a class of bacteria.

Through years of research, scientists improved upon the enzyme through selective mutation, which in just five generations grew to be 170 times more effective in snipping off a wide majority of antigens from blood cells.

Before any real-world use though, the enzyme would need to be further developed to remove all of the antigens that can trigger a patient's immune system to attack the transfused blood.

Safe blood transfusions depend a lot on careful blood typing and cross-matching. The new technology could make the process simpler and put a stop to blood deficit that plagues the world today.

Image by Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson, USAF