BioE communications office
3/6/2018 8:31:27 AM
Whether from accidents, natural disasters, or combat, traumatic injuries that cause profound blood loss are responsible for thousands of deaths annually worldwide. If not addressed immediately, these injuries lead to oxygen depletion, which can leave tissue permanently damaged.
Unfortunately, access to blood is sometimes limited either by location, the nature of the disaster, or by extremely high demand. To address these issues, researchers at the University of Illinois and elsewhere are developing synthetic blood, or a blood substitute, that can be used as a makeshift measure to keep injured patients alive until a more advanced intervention becomes available.
Synthetic blood products offer significant medical benefits. For example, they have a long shelf life, allowing them to be stocked in emergency rooms or ambulances and they may be easily transported to areas of need--donated, fresh blood only lasts a few hours if not refrigerated and up to 42 days if refrigerated. Synthetic blood products can undergo filtration and pasteurization processes to effectively eliminate microbial contamination offering a great level of safety. Since they do not require blood typing, their infusion can happen immediately and for all patient blood types.
The quest to make a viable blood substitute dates back to the 1960s. These early attempts used perfluorocarbon and others methods; they largely failed, though, due to poor oxygen delivery to the damaged tissue and an inability to be stored for more than a few hours. Today, there is only one clinically approved synthetic blood product.
Recently, University of Illinois Bioengineering Associate Professor Dipanjan Pan and his team have developed artificial red blood cells to serve as a blood substitute and a bridging therapy that may keep injured people alive until they can get to a hospital and access a donated, fresh blood supply.
Pan's technology is based on an invention that uses nanometer-sized synthetic red blood cells containing purified hemoglobin. Known as Erythromer, the artificial blood can be freeze-dried and resuspended as needed to deliver oxygen throughout the body.
Erythromer is comprised of a synthetic polymer that is cross-linked to provide stability and can accept a variety of components to mimic the properties of red blood cells. The polymer shell effectively regulates oxygen capture and release and prevents adverse interactions between hemoglobin and vasoactive molecules in blood plasma, which might otherwise lead to vessel narrowing and critically limited blood flow.
ErythoMer can be freeze-dried and stored at ambient temperatures for extended periods before given to people regardless of their blood type.
Pan and his clinical collaborator Allan Doctor, a pediatrician and critical care physician at Washington University School of Medicine received two new federal grants totaling $5 million to continue developing this novel technology. This latest round of research funding comes from the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Earlier, Pan and Doctor collaborated on a $1 million grant through Children’s Discovery Institute to demonstrate proof-of-concept efficacy in mice and rats.
Pan, Doctor, and Dr. Philip Spinella, the director for the Pediatric Critical Care Blood Research Program at the Washington University School of Medicine, recently started Kalocyte, Inc. to further develop this product.
"Our work combines cutting-edge nanotechnology with heme-biology," said Pan. "If we're succesful, ErythoMer has the potential to be a medical game changer."