What’s the biggest hurdle when you are in need of a blood transfusion or when you want to donate blood for your relative or friend? Yes, the compatibility! If your blood groups are not the same or compatible; you cannot donate blood to your friend or relative, and blood transfusion would be postponed until compatible blood is found. However, a team of researchers was able to make use of bacterial enzymes in the human gut to convert common type A into a comparatively more universally accepted type.
If this process pans out successfully, blood specialists might be able to revolutionize the process of blood donation and transfusion. Harvey Klein, the blood transfusion expert at the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, said, ‘This is a first, and if these data can be replicated, it is certainly a major advance.’
People generally have one of the four blood types – A, B, AB, or O. These blood types are determined by the sugar molecules that are present on the surface of their blood cells. If a person with Type A blood received Type B blood or vice versa, these molecules called blood antigens would trigger the immune system to carry out a lethal attack on the red blood cells. Type O blood, however, lacks these antigens and is therefore much easier to transfuse. Mohandas Narla, a red blood cell physiologist at the New York Blood Center in New York City, said, ‘Around the United States and the rest of the world, there is a constant shortage.’
A team of researchers under the leadership of Stephen Withers who is a chemical biologist at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada has managed to make use of human gut bacteria for stripping the red blood cells of the sugars that are offensive. Some of the microbes in the human gut bacteria are able to latch onto the gut wall and devour the sugar-protein combos that are known as mucins and line the gut.
Peter Rahfeld, a UBC postdoc, used a human stool sample and isolated its DNA. In theory, it should have the genes that encode the bacterial enzymes responsible for digesting mucins. The researchers chopped up this DNA and used different pieces of it with copies of the commonly used lab bacterium Escherichia coli. This was done to determine if any of the microbes were able to create proteins that had the ability to take out the A-defining sugars.
It was only when the team tested two of the resulting enzymes together that it was able to remove the sugars. According to a report published in Nature Microbiology, the enzymes are originally from the gut bacterium called Flavonifractor plautii. Narla said, ‘The findings are very promising in terms of their practical utility.’
Fingers crossed as the researchers do more processing and figure out ways of scaling this procedure.