Plastic Blood: Not Just for Halloween Anymore

Researchers at Sheffield University have found a way to synthetically create oxygen enriching blood from scratch, that could be used in emergency situations as a surrogate for transfused blood.  The specially designed synthetic blood has been considered for the battlefield of the future as well as emergency rooms and ambulances.  Blood normally requires special attention, and can only be extracted through a painful and costly process known as transfusion.  Scientists are saying this new technique could quite possibly be the answer to the blood feud between safety concerns and the medical field’s ever growing need for more blood.

Previously blood needed to be extracted from donors who had to fit into very specific categories.  People who could donate blood were often limited to people who had not engaged in a number of activities during their lives (participants couldn’t have received tattoos, visited Europe during the outbreak of Mad Cow Disease, had a history of drug abuse, etc.) or they were barred from donating blood.

Often HIV transmission to patients as well as medical personnel was to fear.  Even those who were allowed to donate blood often didn’t due to a fear of needles and the thought of seeing their own blood, or other medical conditions such as iron deficiency or anemia.

When blood was donated it had to be specially bagged and stored quickly and used up while still fresh.  Old or improperly refrigerated blood often coagulated, which made administering difficult or even deadly as potentially life threatening blood clots appeared.

The newly developed plastic blood, on the other hand, seems to circumvent many of these problems as the blood is not organic, does not require refrigeration, and can even be dehydrated and canned for future use.  The concept of canned blood, ‘just add water,’ is exciting to several scientists who say the concept is beyond what they had previously expected to be possible.  Lance Twyman from Kent University, is trying to make this futuristic fantasy a reality.  Working with synthetic plastics with an iron core, the objects work just like hemoglobin.  The hemoglobin must then simply be able to bind to oxygen atoms in order to take them to the brain.

Of course so-called “perfect” artificial blood is something the medical community has been striving to discover for years.  Professor at the Royal College of Pathologists, Adrian Newland has said that such a process would be monumentally difficult to achieve as small foreign molecules, when reaching the kidneys, would be fleeced from the bloodstream.  Newland suggests, however, that a larger molecule that stays in circulation to carry oxygen to the tissues would be possible.  Regardless, plastic blood has the potential to help those involved in sudden unexpected catastrophes such as automobile accidents, plane crashes, train wrecks, boating accidents, battlefield explosions, orbital malfunctions, and wounds incurred while on expeditions far from medical treatment.  Though the plastics in the blood are said to be potentially unpredictable and potentially dangerous, Twyman says it would still be a step up for those who would face only death as an alternative.  The substance is going to be on display at the Science Museum in London.  Though it is still imperfect, plastic blood may make quite a bit possible for those in need of help.