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Could we see synthetic blood in our lifetime? It could help with blood shortages

Blood
Posted at 5:46 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 17:46:05-05

Blood donations in the U.S. have been dropping like a rock.

“We’ve now reached the lowest levels that we have seen in more than a decade,” said Rodney Wilson, who works for the Red Cross.

He says blood donation levels have been declining since the beginning of the pandemic.

"Typically, we try to keep five days supply of blood on hand, or more. And in recent weeks, we’ve had less than half a day's supply of certain blood types, and about a quarter of hospital’s blood requests are going unmet right now,” said Wilson.

That means there’s not enough blood for people who need transfusions, like people in car accidents or who have diseases like cancer or sickle cell anemia.

“Hospitals and doctors are having to make difficult decisions about how they use this very limited resource and which patients can receive a transfusion now and which patients will have to wait until more blood becomes available,” said Wilson.

The Red Cross is running a campaign to get blood donations up, including giving away free donuts to those who donate. But what if there was another way to get more blood? Or rather, make it.

“The golden ticket, the prize, the Nobel Prize-worthy event is to replicate human blood,” said Army Lt. Col. Matthew Armstrong.

He has spent years studying and researching blood at West Point.

Right now, Synthetic blood does not exist. Lt. Col. Armstrong says there are four challenges we have to overcome.

“It has to have the ability to carry oxygen. It has to be non-toxic. It has to have analogous to actual human blood. And it also has to have a half-life,” said Lt. Col. Armstrong.

In other words, any synthetic blood needs to bring oxygen to your cells. It can’t kill you or make you sick, it needs to be made up of similar materials and flow like regular blood, and it needs to remove itself from your body eventually.

It has to be blood, which is why creating it has been challenging.

But that doesn’t mean it's impossible. Lt. Col. Armstrong says with resources and commitment, he thinks it could be achieved as soon as five years from now, and the benefits could be tremendous.

“If you’re in the army, especially if you’re overseas, there’s a good chance you’re going to need blood over there. It would have changed a lot of outcomes had we been able to get blood faster,” said Lt. Col. Armstrong.

“We wish that we could recreate it so that we wouldn’t need to collect it from donors, but right now, that’s not an option,” said Wilson.

Until it is, the Red Cross encourages everyone who can donate.