Scientists from the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca, in the historical province of Transylvania so well known for its association with the legend of Dracula, have recently created what could be the world’s first synthetic artificial blood substitute free from side effects.
Dr. Radu Silaghi-Dumitrescu, who led the study, has been working with his team for six years experimenting on mice, and found that the artificial blood formula had no harmful side effects. They now have enough confidence in their creation to attempt testing on human subjects within the next few years, and are currently working towards getting approval from Romania’s clinical trial regulatory agency to test it on humans.
While previous attempts to develop artificial blood have been based on the production of synthetic Hemoglobin (a protein responsible for oxygen transfer in the blood of almost all living things), the Romanian researchers instead chose to experiment with a Hemerythrin protein extracted from marine worms, mixing it with water and salts to produce a form of artificial blood much more resilient to the stresses of transfusion.
Hemerythrin is capable of enduring the chemical and physical stresses of an organic body for much greater periods of time than hemoglobin, and according to Dr. Silaghi-Dumitrescu: “Doctors could use the artificial blood to reduce infection rates during blood donation, and to supply lost stores in patients for several hours or even up to a day.”
Human blood has a relatively short shelf-life of just a few weeks, and together with the need to match donor blood to the recipient’s blood type and the risk of disease transmission if due care is not taken, this has led to great efforts in recent years to build a better blood substitute. The aim of the Romanian scientists’ research is not to develop a permanent replacement solution, but rather to provide something that could be used to handle a critical situation until the body’s natural mercenaries take over.
Dr. Silaghi-Dumitrescu believes that in time, the utilisation of hemerythrin could lead to the creation of portable “instant blood” that could be activated by adding water and administered under any set of conditions; from the hospital to the battlefield. Although there is still some way to go towards its final development, the artificial blood looks to have promising applications in the world of Medicine.