UBC researchers have identified a new group of enzymes that can turn any blood type into the universally usable type O.
Blood type is determined by the presence of antigens on the surface of red blood cells, and antigens can trigger an immune response if they are foreign to the body; therefore, transfusion patients should receive either their own blood type or type O to avoid a reaction.
Removing antigens from blood effectively transforms it into type O. Lead researcher Stephen Withers, a professor of chemistry at UBC, and his team previously developed enzymes that were capable of doing so, but this latest study identifies a more powerful group of enzymes found in the human gut.
The researchers sampled DNA from millions of microorganisms found in environmental samples—a technique known as metagenomics—to find an environment in which the desired enzymes might be found. They eventually focused on the mucosal lining of the human gut, which contains sugars that are similar in structure to blood antigens.
By homing in on the bacteria feeding on those sugars, they isolated the enzymes the bacteria use to pluck off the sugar molecules. They then produced quantities of those enzymes through cloning and found that they were capable of performing a similar action on blood antigens.
Withers and his colleagues—UBC microbiologist Steven Hallam and pathologist Jay Kizhakkedathu of the Centre for Blood Research at UBC—are applying for a patent on the new enzymes and are hoping to test them on a larger scale in the future, in preparation for clinical testing.
The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, was presented at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in Boston in August 2018.
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