They tested how well these enzymes were at removing the sugary antigens on Type A and Type B blood, and found they were 30 times more effective than previous candidates. "We have been particularly interested in enzymes that allow us to remove the A or B antigens from red blood cells", said UBC biochemist Stephen Withers in a statement on the study.
To date, people with Universal Blood Type O- are considered universal donors because they have the capability to donate their blood to anyone.
Withers plans to work with colleagues at the Centre for Blood Research at UBC to validate the enzymes and test them on a larger scale for potential clinical testing. The O negative blood type is used extensively in blood transfusions because it can be used in replacement of all blood types.
The research team was able to "get a snapshot of all the DNA" found in the gut by using a method called metagenomics on a sample of human feces. Because blood type O does not contain any sugars, anyone is eligible to receive it. However, they found the right candidates from the enzymes of bacteria found in the human gut.
"The idea was demonstrated for B blood back in 1982, but the enzymes they had available then were so slow and inefficient it was never going to be a practical approach", Withers said.
Aside from turning blood Type A and B to universal blood type O, in what other ways could we rectify the growing demand for blood donations around the world?
Withers and his team previously developed enzymes that were capable of stipping away antigens, but this new kind is much more powerful and efficient. The team found an entire family of enzymes that gut bacteria use to pluck sugars off mucins, which are the proteins that line the gut wall.
"So we just simply add them to the red blood cells, they attach themselves to the surface of the red blood cell and then they cut the sugar off", he said Wednesday in an interview from Boston, where the research was presented at this week's American Chemical Society annual meeting. Whereas, other donated blood types can only be used on people who share the same type.
Type O blood is especially important because it can be accepted by nearly all bodies, making it valuable for blood transfusions.
"Obviously, the next stages are all about safety, making sure this doesn't cause any inadvertent effects", Mr Withers said.
While it would be unnecessary to modify all non-O blood units, Devine said the technology will be important in settings where there are anticipated shortages of group O, including Canadian summers marked by increased motor vehicle accidents, as well as hurricane season in the Caribbean and troop deployments to combat zones.
"Hopefully what it would do is loosen up the blood supply, in a sense: make it more broadly available", Withers said.
'I am optimistic that we have a very interesting candidate to adjust donated blood to a common type, ' he said.