Blood Quest

For more than three decades, researchers have been actively pursuing shelf-stable, portable, one-type-fits-all blood substitutes for transfusions in extreme situations, such as on the battlefield. While no product has obtained regulatory approval, recent progress promises to revolutionize transfusion medicine.

WASHINGTON, DC – In most developed countries, patients can be confident about the safety of blood transfusions. The problem is that maintaining a steady, uncontaminated supply of donor blood is not always easy. Is it possible to ensure an adequate supply of safe blood once and for all?

Today’s blood supplies, often donated by volunteers, can be contaminated with HIV and other infectious agents. And donor blood must be kept in cold storage, where it has a 28-day shelf life. Given fear of contamination – and military interest in a more durable supply – research into synthetic alternatives has long been a medical priority.

The idea of using blood substitutes was first advanced in the seventeenth century, and continues to attract researchers today. Several products that could revolutionize transfusion medicine have already been developed in the pursuit of shelf-stable, portable, one-type-fits-all blood substitutes, which could replace standard blood transfusions in extreme situations, such as on the battlefield.