Stanford Study on Blood Substitutes Won’t Be Taken in Vein

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By Amanda Ojeda

Each year, the national blood supply shortage grows, so much that we have now reached a critical status; so, here’s how Stanford Researchers plan to fix that.

Blood transfusions are a lifesaving technique that is used in hospitals throughout a variety of different patients, from trauma, childbirth, and those undergoing chemotherapy. Statistics show that every 2 seconds someone in the US needs blood or platelets. However, blood is in short supply, both in the US and globally, with the global deficit being about 100 million units of blood per year.

Stanford researchers state that patients with anemia or blood with low oxygen levels, could possibly receive the same treatment as they would with blood, but with blood substitutes that are more readily available. Sickle cell disease affects about 100,000 people in the US with about 1,000 babies born with the disease each year. These patients require transfusions throughout the entirety of their lives, but obtaining, storing, and delivering the correct blood type can be inefficient and costly.

The primary goal of this study was to find a substitute that would be less costly, is more readily available, and eliminates blood transfusion’s negative effects. To do this they focused on all the key aspects of a blood transfusion, blood vessel expansion, blood thickening, and flow-rate changes. They found that substitutes could possibly eliminate adverse side effects that include a lowered lifespan. Blood transfusions have been observed to lower lifespans by 6% per unit transfused per decade.

“Why does this occur?”, one may ask. Well, blood transfusions are supposed to cause blood vessels to dilate, increasing its oxygen delivery rate and improving circulation. However, every body reacts differently, and there is still a good portion of people who wouldn’t benefit from a blood transfusion. Some patients’ blood vessels don’t dilate, instead they thicken, making oxygen delivery very poor. The most frequently used transfusion quantity, a 2-unit transfusion, would actually reduce blood flow for this pool of patients, regardless of their degree of anemia.

The model successfully has shown that with substitutes, they could increase oxygen delivery, while decreasing the amount of fluid required. Projections of the team’s results show that a safer and inexpensive blood substitute could decrease the costs of transfusions by 10 times, along with lowering the likelihood of adverse side effects.

Co-author Marcos Intaglietta, a professor and founder of the bioengineering discipline at UCSD, notes that their model has considered factors that weren’t studied as closely as before, and that, “At present, blood transfusion is determined by addressing the wrong target, namely restoring oxygen-carrying capacity, but the logical target of a blood transfusion is restoring oxygen-delivery capacity.” Overall, the team is looking forward to the opportunities that this model will provide and hopes to continue with their research through clinical trials.

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