DU researchers develop haemoglobin-based blood substitute

Unavailability of blood in emergency situations such as accidents or battlefield trauma will no longer be a problem as a Delhi University department has claimed to have developed a safe and portable blood substitute which can be used irrespective of blood groups.

PTI| Last Updated: Dec 21, 2014, 12:43 PM IST

New Delhi: Unavailability of blood in emergency situations such as accidents or battlefield trauma will no longer be a problem as a Delhi University department has claimed to have developed a safe and portable blood substitute which can be used irrespective of blood groups.

A team of researchers at Delhi University's department of Biochemistry, led by professor Suman Kundu, has applied for a patent for laboratory-made haemoglobin which, according to them, enjoys several advantages as a blood substitute.

"The lab developed haemoglobin is a safe and portable blood substitute. It has multiple advantages like cheaper cost of production, long shelf life, blood group neutral, no associated risk of transmission of diseases and easy to store," Kundu told PTI.

"Traditional blood transfusion practice is to use blood donated by benevolent human individuals (donor). However, the worldwide supply of donated blood for transfusion therapy is always woefully short than the demand due to either a general aversion to blood donation or inability to donate blood due to medical reasons," he said.

Scientists have thus been forced to look for alternatives to donated blood, which are called "artificial blood substitutes", "artificial haemoglobins" or "haemoglobin based oxygen carriers (HBOC)".

According to Kundu, researchers across the world have been trying for years to develop a portable blood substitute that functions as an oxygen carrier, is stable enough to be stored for prolonged periods in different conditions and can be used to treat individuals of any blood type but haven't been successful so far due to one shortcoming.

"The protein (haemoglobin) easily releases a chemical compound called 'heme' due to its breakdown under physiological conditions. Heme is severely toxic to the body when released from the haemoglobin molecule," he said.

In India, one unit of blood (350-400 cc) costs around Rs 500-800, while this blood substitute will cost approximately 10-12 per cent less than that. Moreover, blood can be stored at blood banks for 40-50 days while the substitute can be stored for three years, Kundu claimed.

The DU researchers have discovered that the 'heme' can be tightly associated with haemoglobin by introducing a chemical bond between the two.

"We changed one strategic amino acid (building block of proteins) in a model haemoglobin, named 'myoglobin', to a different amino acid which can make the desired chemical bond. The modified haemoglobin showed all properties like normal haemoglobin but did not release 'heme' under any experimental conditions tested," he said.

According to Kundu, the experiment can be implemented in practice and made commercially viable in the next two to three years.

The research finding has been published in "Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC)", an esteemed international scientific journal.