MAD COW HUMAN BLOOD MIX
September 29 1996 A substitute for human blood made from cows' blood is being tested on patients in America, writes Roger Dobson Cows' blood is tested on humans HUMAN TRIALS of a blood substitute derived from cows are beginning in America and could soon take place in Europe. BioPure, the American company developing the substitute, claims it is free of BSE and other contamination, but one big pharmaceuticals company working on a rival product has warned that there may be problems with using animal products.
It says the safety of blood taken from cows can never fully guaranteed. Baxter Healthcare is working on a similar product, but made from out-of-date human blood. It says: "Viruses present in animal blood are not as well characterised and are therefore more difficult to detect than those in human blood. Animal-sourced products also must be subject to rigorous purification procedures since contamination with animal-derived proteins can cause allergic reactions." Researchers point out, too, that there is no foolproof test for detecting BSE. BioPure, which uses haemoglobin processed from cows' blood, is carrying out trials in America. Other studies are planned for Europe. A spokesman says: "We are very aware of the BSE issue and we have a very significant herd-management programme that really prevents that from being a problem. We also have a proprietary process that we believe would take it out even if it was in there.
To date BSE has not been detected in America." BioPure is testing one of two bovine blood products that use haemoglobin taken from cows. A big attraction is that animal haemoglobin is in almost limitless supply and is cheap. The BioPure product is one of the first-generation blood substitutes in development that are based on haemoglobin from various biological sources, including human and cows' blood, or are entirely synthetic, made from a solution of petrofluorocarbons. The substitutes, which have a limited life, offer two distinct advantages. In operations, much transfused blood is lost and these substitutes can be used instead of blood during surgery.
Second, in trauma cases the synthetic blood can be administered immediately without losing precious time blood-typing and cross-matching as is required with real blood. And unlike real blood, which keeps for only six weeks, the new haemoglobin materials can be stored for six months to a year and stockpiled for disaster relief. The substitutes may also reduce the risk of viral transmissions and may be more beneficial for a range of patients, including victims of strokes and heart attacks, because they get oxygen to areas that blood alone cannot reach and protect the functioning of vital organs. The range of new substitute products, so far used in trials on up to 1,000 patients worldwide, has the potential to change the way millions of casualty and other acute patients are treated. And the worldwide market for such products is estimated to be worth as much as #3 billion a year.
As many as eight different companies worldwide are currently working on trials of substitute blood. This synthetic blood is made in a variety of ways, processing haemoglobin taken from real blood that has passed its use-by-date - as Baxter is doing - or by using haemoglobin taken from cows or from bacteria. For decades scientists have been looking for a good blood substitute that is free of viral infections and that can be given to patients without fear of side-effects, and that will help to conserve stocks of donated blood. Natural blood carries out a number of functions, including transporting oxygen around the body. Haemoglobin, the iron-containing protein that gives blood its red colour, picks up the oxygen at the lungs and circulates it around the body, serving vital organs and tissue.
When the patient loses a large amount of blood, the blood pressure drops and tissue and organs can be deprived of oxygen. Doctors usually give salt or protein solutions to patients who have lost a great deal of blood. They have the effect of expanding the volume of the remaining blood so that the heart can pump effectively, but in large doses there can be side-effects. Baxter Healthcare, which is involved in trials in hospitals in Britain, is already building the world's biggest factory for making blood substitutes. Construction of the plant in Switzerland will be finished next year with commercial production starting up in 1998. At the end of this year the company expects to apply to the regulatory authorities in Europe for marketing approval. Baxter Healthcare extracts haemoglobin from outdated human blood.
Because haemoglobin breaks in half when removed from the red blood cell, Baxter's researchers are using an aspirin-type drug and patented technology to keep it bonded together. This chemically stabilised haemoglobin solution - brand name HemAssist - can be subjected to anti-viral processes that cannot be applied to real blood. Since doctors carried out the first blood transfusion in 1667, there has been a search for a truly artificial blood. When haemoglobin was first separated in the mid 18th century, hopes were raised, but now researchers believe they are on the right track.
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