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An 'artificial' approach to saving lives

By perfecting artificial blood and biomaterials, Andre Palmer’s research has the potential to save countless lives.
Ohio State researcher Andre Palmer looks at a vial of the artificial blood he's developed.
Ohio State researcher Andre Palmer is collaborating with researchers around to country in a quest to develop artificial blood which can combat a blood shortage and help save lives. (Katrina Norris)

Blood is precious. And we’re running out of it. In some instances, the people who are saving lives can’t get the blood available to where it’s needed most.

Andre Palmer’s research is working to combat those shortcomings, and he’s succeeding where many have failed.

A professor of chemical and bimolecular engineering, Palmer researches the creation of artificial blood — specifically materials to replace lost blood components, such as red blood cells or plasma, and biomaterials for use in transfusion medicine.

His work could save countless lives in the future, from wounded soldiers on the battlefield to those seriously injured in natural disasters and everyday accidents.

“If you have a car accident victim who lost blood, you can stop the bleeding in the victim and transfuse them with our materials which should replace the lost blood and keep them alive for up to 24 hours, which is more than enough time for them to get to a hospital to get a blood transfusion,” said Palmer, also Ohio State’s associate dean for research in the College of Engineering. “The passion for this work comes from the fact that, if successful, these materials we’re developing could be used to save patients’ lives.”

'An impending crisis' with blood supply

On battlefields, during natural disasters or even in rural areas, blood transfusions are difficult to execute because of storage and transportation issues. Blood must be stored at refrigerated temperatures and then matched based on blood type. However, Palmer’s materials can be stored at room temperature and are universal matches.

Another obstacle? Donated blood is only good for 42 days; whereas, artificial blood can be stored indefinitely.

4.5 million
Number of Americans that need a blood transfusion each year

There’s another major problem with donated blood: We’re running out of it.

“We have an impending crisis,” Palmer said. “Transfusions are increasing while donations are decreasing. It’s estimated that by 2030, there will be a shortage of about 4 million units of blood in the U.S.”

Each year, 4.5 million Americans need a transfusion. Every day, 29,000 units of red blood cells and 6,500 units of plasma are needed in the U.S. However, we’re facing a critical blood supply shortage, according to the American Red Cross.

Artificial blood can’t fix this problem completely because it’s only good for 24 hours. But it can be critical in emergency situations, getting someone life-saving red blood cells or plasma as they await a transfusion.

Andre Palmer works in his lab on Ohio State's campus. Palmer's work developing artificial blood is helping to address a critical societal need. (Katrina Norris)

Collaborations will save lives

With his artificial blood in preclinical development, Palmer’s research is producing stronger results than what’s been done in the past. 

“A lot of companies put millions of dollars into trying to develop a product, and they did not get anywhere,” said Pedro Cabrales, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego and collaborator with Palmer. “Andre has been able to generate new ideas, moving his formulations closer and closer to clinical studies.

“There are others trying novel approaches, but I don’t think they have the same ability to scale up production to make it financially or physically viable the way Andre’s research is doing.”

While Palmer engineers the materials, Cabrales’ lab evaluates and finds biomedical applications for the materials. For instance, could an oxygen carrier Palmer created work for someone suffering from hemorrhagic shock or living with severe anemia?

It’s been a partnership that has lasted more than a decade and produced dozens of papers.  

There are others trying novel approaches, but I don't think they have the same ability to scale up production to make it financially or physically the way Andre's research is doing.
Pedro Cabrales
Professor of bioengineering, University of California, San Diego

“Andre has a really good work ethic. He gets things done and has very good ideas,” Cabrales said. “Probably he’s one of the most recognized scientists working on artificial blood right now. And he’s doing very noble work in transfusion medicine, which is a field very dependent on blood and blood supply.”

Along with his research in artificial blood, Palmer is researching how the biomaterials he creates can be used to improve organ transplantation. He is collaborating with Ohio State transplant surgeons Bryan Whitson and Sylvester Black to study how organ transplant methods can be improved.

Currently, donated organs are put on ice to lower the metabolic rate for storage prior to transplantation.

“We hypothesize the organ would function better if, instead of putting it on ice, you perfused the organ with a solution that could transport oxygen then that would keep the organ more viable and it would function better when transplanted into a recipient,” Palmer said. “It could potentially improve transplant outcomes.”

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