New UBC-created enzyme could transform donated blood for universal use

WATCH: Yet another potential breakthrough by B.C. researchers, this one could change the face of blood donations and save countless lives.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia are closer than ever to finding a way to reduce blood shortages and eliminate the risks of mismatched transfusions by making all blood compatible – no matter what the type.

“The problem is blood antigens,” says David Kwan, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemistry. When attached to red blood cells, they cause someone to have Type A, B, or AB blood – which then can only be donated to someone with the same blood type.

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However, Kwan led a project with other UBC researchers to create an enzyme that can remove these antigens. He created the enzyme by inserting mutations into the gene in a new technology called directed evolution.

“The concept is not new but until now we needed so much of the enzyme to make it work that it was impractical,” said Steve Withers, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, in a statement. “Now I’m confident that we can take this a whole lot further.”

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“This enzyme has been discovered before, it’s been characterized. But we’ve used our methodology to improve its activity towards these antigens,” said Kwan.

The project is still years away from being usable in clinical studies, because so far the enzyme hasn’t been able to remove all the antigens in a blood sample. But Kwan is hopeful.

“We want to take donated blood, treat it with these enzymes, and remove the antigens so they can be transfused into anyone regardless of their blood type.”

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