Blood type changes possible using ‘mutant enzyme’

1 May 2015

A team of researchers from Canada could make the job of blood bank employees a lot easier after its development of a ‘mutant enzyme’ that can alter blood types, making transfusions more flexible.

For years now, scientists have been trying to address the problem whereby someone in dire need of a blood transfusion is totally reliant on hoping that donations from people who have the same type of blood are available at the nearest blood bank.

Until now, many of the staff working within blood banks have been crying out for people with AB- blood which, Donating blood in Ireland to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, makes up only 1pc of Ireland’s entire population but allows for their blood to be used for any transfusion.

Now, according to the University of British Columbia (UBC), a team of chemists and scientists from the university has created what it says will be an economic solution to the issue with the help of a ‘mutant enzyme’.

By snipping off the antigens of Type A and Type B blood, the team was able to transform it into Type O blood, which, as those working in blood banks will know, is the universal blood type allowing for donations to any person needing a transfusion.

Direct evolution and mutant enzymes

To create the mutant enzyme, the team used a new technique called ‘direct evolution’ that inserts mutations into the gene that code enzymes, and then selects mutants that are more effective at cutting the antigens.

It found that, within just five generations, the enzyme became 170 times more effective.

There’s still one stumbling block, however, before it can be used by the public, that being, the mutant enzyme would need to be capable of removing all antigens from the blood as the immune system is highly sensitive to blood groups and even small amounts of residual antigens could trigger an immune response.

“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. “Now I’m confident that we can take this a whole lot further.”

Blood types research image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic