The Korean government has developed a technology to freeze human blood using Antarctic sea microorganisms and conserve it for more than six months, sources said Tuesday. The government is soon to transfer the technology to a private biotech firm, they said.
The Korea Polar Research Institute of Marine Research Placement (KOPRI), run under the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, developed the technology to freeze blood using microorganisms (pseudoalteromonas) in the Antarctic Sea without damage such as red blood cell destruction. Currently, blood can be refrigerated for up to 35 days. The KOPRI has finished testing the technology on animals.
Although it is possible to freeze blood and transfuse it at hospitals, it is very costly and time-consuming. Hospitals use only rare blood to do so. With existing technologies, it takes about one minute to drop the blood temperature by one degree. To make the temperature go below minus 196 degrees Celsius, it takes at least 196 minutes.
The KOPRI’s technology, however, makes the freezing fast. It does not require liquid nitrogen, saving costs. It also lowers blood toxicity after thawing as well.
“We conducted this R&D project from December 2011 to February 2016. After that, the KOPRI carried out follow-up research. Depending on study results, we may be able to save rare blood easily,” a ministry official said.
A local biotech firm is reportedly near to signing a licensing deal with the government.
The medical community has been struggling with the shortage of rare blood as well as infection control over blood transfusion.
If clinical trials on the freezing technology go successful, it is likely to have a significant impact on related industries, including cord blood businesses.
However, some experts cautioned against excessive optimism, noting that the technology has only passed the animal testing.
On the premise that he “did not know any details about the research,” a professor of diagnostic medicine at a university hospital said returning blood that has been frozen for six months back to normal would be a “tremendous technology” that would shake the whole academic community.
“It seems that they have just succeeded in animal testing in a lab. It is harder to defrost blood than to freeze it. What’s more important is that humans should not have any abnormality after blood transfusion,” the professor said. “To conduct a trial, they should freeze blood for six months, transfuse it to patients, and observe safety for a long term. This will be a difficult study. They have a long way to go.”
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