Shelves in the refrigerator at the Laboratory of Biomedical Engineering are stacked with bottles of artificial blood. The milky liquid does not look like human blood. Yet it is expected to take over some of its functions.
CREATING A HUMAN BLOOD substitute is a task that has been undertaken by scientists from various laboratories, including labs in the US or the UK. The research team from the Faculty of Chemical and Process Engineering at the Warsaw University of Technology led by Professor Tomasz Ciach has developed red blood cell substitute which can carry oxygen and may be used for transfusions and preserving human organs for transplantation.
Blood Made of Polysaccharides
The artificial blood has exceptional properties. It can be stored for many years, is free of antigens, viruses and bacteria, and can be transfused to anyone, because it is compatible with all blood groups. ‘We hear of the search for the right blood group for the purposes of surgery, or of summer blood bank shortfalls, when more accidents happen and the demand for blood grows. At the same time, a blood transfusion means the risk of transmitting a disease, even one that contemporary medicine may not even be aware of. Then there are cases where the patient objects to blood transfusion on account of their religion. The synthetic substitute solves all these problems,’ says Prof. Tomasz Ciach.
Artificial blood from the Warsaw Laboratory of Biomedical Engineering was obtained from polysaccharides and perfluorochemicals in the process of chemical synthesis. Just like human blood, it is able to transport oxygen. When it enters the bloodstream and reaches the lungs, it binds to oxygen and transports it to the tissues. Moreover, the substitute transports carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs.
Ready for Commercialisation
The team is currently testing transfusing the blood substitute on laboratory animals and examining to what extent it saturates their organs with oxygen. According to Prof. Tomasz Ciach, the results are promising. The next stage will be clinical trials; the researchers are looking for an investor.
The team has also developed prototype equipment for preserving organs for transplantation in artificial blood. ‘At this point, a kidney, a liver or a heart are stored in ice. They have to be transplanted within several hours, because they are slowly dying. Organs preserved in blood substitute could be stored at a temperature similar to body temperature for several weeks,’ Prof. Tomasz Ciach explains.
In order to introduce artificial blood and the equipment for preserving organs onto the market and into hospitals, the company NanoSanguis, a spin-off of the Warsaw University of Technology, its co-owner, has been founded. NanoSanguis carries out research and obtains funding to commercialise the inventions.
From the Lab to the Operating Room
Prof. Ciach’s laboratory is the venue of ever new solutions to medical and pharmaceutical problems. The scientists carry out projects with partners from countries including Germany, the UK, Austria,
Japan, the Netherlands and South Africa.
‘Our objective in every project is to find a solution that would be applicable in medicine,’ emphasises Prof. Tomasz Ciach.
A German hospital is currently testing vascular grafts. They are made of polyurethane nanofibres, whose surface has been modified so that it prevents a coagulation cascade while supporting adhesion and development of endothelial cells, which naturally line the human circulatory system. Several inventions have already been brought to the international medical market: the technology of coating coronary stents with a polymer that releases drugs and the technology of urological catheter coatings that relieve pain and prevent infections. Next in line is the technology of producing hydroxyapatite nanoparticles for bone implants.
Warsaw University of Technology
Faculty of Chemical and Process Engineering
of the Warsaw University of Technology