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The Blood Bank's Fishy Solution

by Utne Reader staff

Tags: Medicine, biomimicry,

arctic cod

Arctic Cod may hold the key to a more efficient method for storing blood.

Maintaining an adequate supply of blood has always been a challenge for hospitals. While refrigeration and freezing can provide a blood bank with reserves, the limited shelf life of blood and the additives used for preservation have made blood storage far from efficient, and reliance on new donors perpetual. But a new study conducted by scientists at the University of Warwick has demonstrated that nature might have a solution.

Summarized by Peter Dunn-Warwick for Futurity and first published in the journal Nature Communications, the study took a closer look at the antifreeze properties of fish that live in sub-freezing waters such as the arctic cod. Scientists isolated the specific proteins that prohibit freezing in fish blood, and were able to mimic the properties of those proteins in a polymer alcohol that can be added to human blood for efficient storage. Matthew Gibson of the University of Warwick summed up the multiple benefits of using polymer alcohol in freezing blood: “Firstly, it reduces the growth of ice crystals during thawing, secondly it reduces the need for organic solvents, and crucially, it reduces the time between defrosting and having transfusion-ready blood by eliminating the need to remove solvent.”

Although further testing is needed, scientists are hopeful that polymer alcohol will not only enhance blood storage techniques, but also bolster treatments for certain cancers and neurological ailments.  

Photo by NOAA Photo Library, licensed under Creative Commons