Antifreeze proteins from fish living in icy seas have inspired a new way to freeze blood which could one day increase the precious stocks available for medical procedures. University of Warwick researchers have found a new application for a common polymer which allows blood cells to better survive being stored at freezing temperatures. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
Polyvinyl alcohol – which mimics antifreeze properties found in cold-acclimatised fish like arctic cod – works by inhibiting the growth of ice crystals during thawing which would otherwise damage the blood cells and make them unusable in medical settings. Currently in the UK, blood is stored by refrigeration – but it can only be kept this way for up to one month so hospitals are dependent on a constant supply of donors to keep blood banks topped up. These stocks can fall at certain times of the year – for example over Christmas or during major sporting events – which is why freezing is an attractive option.
Many other donor cells also need to be cryopreserved, including bone marrow for leukaemia patients. The need for technologies such as one developed at the University of Warwick is expected to grow in importance with the growth of biobanks and the emergence of more stem cell therapies. Edited from Arctic cod inspire new way to help hospitals keep blood on ice.