In a scene reminiscent of choosing between regular and decaf, emergency medical personnel may soon choose between real and "fake" blood.
In this case, the "fake" blood is a blood substitute known as HBOC-201. It's manufactured by Biopure Corporation and is derived from bovine sources that are subjected to multiple purification procedures. HBOC-201 has a couple significant advantages over whole blood in emergency situations: it can be stores at room temperature for up to 3 years; and, it does not need to be matched to a patient's blood type, which can greatly reduce the time required to administer blood.
But, is it safe?
"The majority of patients who received the blood substitute did well," said Dr. Jonathan Jahr, study lead author and professor of clinical anesthesiology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The UCLA scientists studied close to 700 adults who were undergoing elective orthopedic surgeries. One group received the HBOC-201 substitute and the other group received whole blood transfusions. The results were... mixed.
For those patients over 80 years of age, the HBOC-201 appears to be a choice of last resort only. Numerous problems with cardiac and central nervous system issues occurred in the older group of patients. "For this specific older acute patient population, we suggest using a blood substitute only if blood is not available," said Dr. A. Gerson Greenburg, study author and vice president, medical affairs, Biopure Corporation.
There were also issues for the younger patients, but not as severe. These included skin discoloration, elevated blood pressure and increased levels of certain enzymes. "Although these temporary side effects didn't lead to any clinical problems in most patients, these should be studied in future trials," said Jahr.
Will blood substitute products become the norm in the future? Maybe - but, it does seem quite certain they'll play an important role, especially in emergency situations.
So, what's your choice - regular or HBOC-201?To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read about the history of blood substitutes, see this from eMedicine.