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Is There a Substitute for Human Blood?

Reviewed on 7/15/2020

Blood's central function is to carry oxygen to cells to fuel normal activity. This is a difficult property to mimic safely, which is why there are no FDA-approved blood substitutes yet on the market.
Blood's central function is to carry oxygen to cells to fuel normal activity. This is a difficult property to mimic safely, which is why there are no FDA-approved blood substitutes yet on the market.

There is currently no substitute for human blood. Despite more than 70 years of research, scientists have been unable to develop an ideal blood substitute. 

For a blood substitute to work, it must be able to mimic the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. Most of the human blood substitute products in advanced-phase clinical trials are derivatives of hemoglobin and are called hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers (HBOCs).

What Are Potential Uses for Human Blood Substitutes?

Uses for human blood substitute include:

  • Trauma care 
  • Elective surgeries
  • Patients with medical conditions who need long-term blood transfusions, such as patients with myelodysplastic syndrome and aplastic anemia 
  • As organ preservatives to prevent or decrease reperfusion injury to donor organs (injury caused by sudden resumption of bloodflow upon implantation)

Human blood substitutes may also be acceptable for use by religious and ethnic groups with concerns regarding the use of human-derived blood products.

What Would Be an Ideal Human Blood Substitute?

An ideal human blood substitute should:

  • Have the capacity for adaptive immunity (antigenicity) and substantially reduce or eliminate the ability to transmit infections
  • Be readily available for use
  • Have a long shelf-life
  • Be capable of being stored at room temperature
  • Have a reasonable amount of oxygen delivery compared with natural human red blood cells

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Reviewed on 7/15/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference
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