Artificial blood, also known as oxygen therapeutics, works by carrying oxygen throughout the body. It does not act as a blood substitute as it cannot accomplish all of the things that real blood is responsible for. Doctors use artificial blood whenever they are concerned that a person has lost too much blood to be able to deliver oxygen from the lungs to every cell in the body. Hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers (HBOC) and perfluorocarbons are the two main types of artificial blood, and are categorized by the way in which they carry oxygen.
Hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers are made from expired real blood, cow blood, or artificial hemoglobin that has been sterilized and made stronger by binding the cell to a polymer or another hemoglobin. This type of oxygen therapeutic acts very similar to red blood cells, but the cells are smaller and can carry more oxygen. HBOCs only stay in the person’s body for one day, but it can cause high blood pressure, stomach cramping, and could lead to iron overload.
Perfluorocarbons are mainly composed of hydrogen and fluorine, and they are emulsified in substances such as lecithin before they are transfused. This type of cell can carry much more oxygen than normal blood cells, and sometimes this overload of oxygen can cause free radicals to be released in the body. Perfluorocarbons are smaller than blood cells and can travel into areas of the body that are swollen or abnormal because of disease or trauma.
Artificial blood is usually given to a patient after the doctor has transfused the person’s blood with volume expanders, which is substance similar to saline. The infusion keeps the person’s blood pressure normal until the body can create new blood cells and plasma. Oxygen therapeutics are valuable in many emergency situations, as the blood has no type and can be used for anyone.
Real blood must be stored cooled in a refrigerator, and is usually only viable for about six weeks, while artificial blood has a shelf life of nearly a year and does not require refrigeration, making it a good alternative for field physicians and those in areas of the world where there conditions are much more hostile. There is a risk with a blood transfusion that the blood is contaminated with various conditions, such as hepatitis. Artificial blood can be sterilized, and as demand grows, oxygen therapeutics can be manufactured to meet the need.