UBC chemists and scientists in the Centre for Blood Research have created an enzyme that could potentially solve the problem of blood-type shortages. The enzyme works by snipping off the sugars (antigens) found in type A and type B blood, making it more like the universal type O. To create this high-powered enzyme, researchers used a new technology called directed evolution that involves inserting mutations into the gene that codes for the enzyme, and selecting mutants that are more effective at cutting the antigens. In just five generations, the enzyme became 170 times more effective. With this enzyme, UBC associate professor Jayachandran Kizhakkedathu and colleagues in the Centre for Blood Research were able to remove the wide majority of the antigens in type A and B blood. The enzyme would need to remove all of the antigens before it could be used in clinical settings, as even small amounts of residual antigens could trigger an immune response.
The study, “Toward efficient enzymes for the generation of universal blood through structure-guided directed evolution,” was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Canadian Blood Services.