Blood supply has always been a point of concern within the U.S. and countries around the world. There has historically been numerous shortages of blood supply, and the lack of available blood has delayed much treatment and led to lost lives. One of the exciting medical breakthroughs is the possibility of creating synthetic blood and deliver it globally, which can help shore up global blood supply and make blood more accessible to remote regions of the world.
Helping us decipher the potential of synthetic blood will be Dr. Imran Haque, and internist and general practitioner with over a decade of experience. Dr. Imran Haque is excited about a future with synthetic blood because it opens up many doors for patients around the world – having an available and compatible blood supply for patients around the world will make treatment more available during natural disasters, infusion more possible for patients with rare blood types, and blood supply more effective on the battlefield. One of the biggest bonuses of a synthetic blood supply is that it is compatible for people with rare blood types, and it is guaranteed to be free of any diseases or illness.
Blood Supply and Uses in the U.S.
Dr. Imran Haque points out that it’s very difficult to manage supply and demand for blood in the U.S. due to the unpredictable periods where demand spikes or supply drops – often due to a natural disasters, public emergencies, or even American holidays. Every day, patients need at least 41,000 pints of blood but there are very few people regularly donating blood to keep up with the demand. In fact, only 3.8% of the entire U.S. population donate, which means the demand for blood can very quickly outstrip supply. Stockpiling blood is also very difficult because blood has a short shelf life of just 42 days. Within the U.S., most hospitals are categorized based on how many days they can maintain operations without replenishing their blood supply. Most hospitals can maintain their operations without new blood supply for three-plus days sans a black swan event. On the other hand, there are a handful of hospitals in the U.S. whose blood supply is measured in one to two-day increments, which means the hospital needs to ration out its blood supply and limit operations on patients, which can lead to delays in patient care.
The combination of the short shelf life and a very small cushion in supply means that a sudden spike in blood demand via natural disaster or public health emergency can quickly lead to a shortage. In addition, the blood supply can also temporarily dry up during times of inclement weather or holidays, as potential donors are usually preoccupied during those times and fail to donate blood. Since it’s not possible to anticipate the timing or scale of natural disasters, it’s the sudden spikes in demand that can lead to temporary nation-wide shortages of blood. Being able to manufacture synthetic blood could help alleviate the shortage of blood supply, and perhaps even solve the problem one day.
How Synthetic Blood Works
Synthetic blood is currently being tested today by UK’s National Health Service. The blood is grown from the stem cells of donors, and it’s currently undergoing testing to see whether it behaves the same as regularly donated blood. One of the biggest benefits associated with synthesized blood is that it is disease and illness free – being grown in a lab environment means that the blood will never be exposed to any foreign contaminants. Part of the reason why blood supply is so constrained in the U.S. is due to limitations on donors. Being ill or a carrier of a chronic disease automatically excludes an individual from donating blood. In fact, only 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, of which only 10% do so on a regular basis.
Rare Blood Transfusions
Being disease free is only one benefit of synthetic blood – another plus is that synthesized blood can be compatible with people who have rare blood types or have reacted poorly to blood infusion in the past. One of the big hurtles today is the short supply of globally compatible blood, which means certain people will struggle when they need a transfusion. Dr. Imran Haque points out that being able to create blood based on an individual’s stem cells means that it’s theoretically possible to create an individual’s blood outside the body that is practically identical to blood inside their body. This means that blood infusion becomes possible to one hundred percent of people, regardless to how they may have reacted to donated blood in the past, since they’re getting infused with their own blood.
The final benefit to synthesized blood is that it opens global availability. One of the avenues of research involving synthetic blood is being conducted by Allan Doctor, a researcher at Washington University of St. Louis. He has created a special synthetic polymer that coats artificial red blood cells, which reacts to pH levels. It enables the artificial cells to pick up oxygen from the lungs (where pH is high) to places with low oxygen (where pH is low). The benefit of Allan Doctor’s synthetic blood cell is that it can be freeze dried into a powder that can be used anywhere, from emergency zones, battle fields, and even in space. The only step needed is to be mixed with water and it is ready for emergency use. Dr. Imran Haque is very excited for the powdered synthetic blood because it will greatly improve blood availability.
Synthetic Blood is more Accessible and more safe
Dr. Imran Haque is very excited about the future with synthetic blood because it helps solve the global blood supply crisis with safe blood. The combination of being able to provide blood transfusions for people with rare blood types and being able to deliver blood globally means that that less people will die in remote regions of the world and in combat. In addition, it also makes the U.S. much more capable of handling natural disasters and emergencies, as helping the wounded will no longer lead to a nationwide shortage of blood, which can lead to delayed care for other Americans. Synthetic blood is a big step forward for a future of global healthcare availability.