UB Researchers Receive $1.1 Million Grant to Continue Work On Development of Synthetic Hemoglobin

By Lois Baker

Release Date: February 7, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo has received a $1.1 million grant to continue its research into developing a synthetic form of hemoglobin, an element essential to the creation of a human-blood substitute.

UB is one of six institutions participating in the $6 million five-year study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The new grant allows UB scientists to continue research supported by a $1.3 million award to UB from the same agency in 1988.

Scientists agree that a blood substitute would be a powerful medical tool. It would provide a blood supply free of any human viruses and would eliminate complications associated with using human blood, such as its short shelf life and the need to match blood types for transfusion.

Robert W. Noble, Ph.D., professor of medicine, chief of the laboratory of protein chemistry at the Buffalo VA Medical Center, and a hemoglobin researcher for nearly 30 years, is principal investigator on the UB project.

"We are trying to obtain the fundamental knowledge that will enable us to design a molecule that will serve better as a blood substitute than normal hemoglobin," Noble said.

"Human hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of blood, is designed to function within a red blood cell," he explained. "When it is removed from the red cell, it binds oxygen so tightly that a person could have a generous supply of oxygen and still suffocate because the oxygen wouldn’t be released to the tissues. But creating a whole synthetic red cell is too complicated. So we are concentrating on creating a form of hemoglobin that will function outside a red cell."

The approach involves manipulating the amino-acid sequence of the hemoglobin molecule and observing how the molecule’s structure affects its function.

"We are making new versions of human hemoglobin by growing the protein in bacteria and doing site-directed mutagenesis, " Noble said. "We can change any amino acid in a protein into any other amino acid we choose. In this way, we hope ultimately to design a molecule that will function optimally as a blood substitute."

Noble noted that research is advancing on several fronts, but actually producing a viable substitute for human blood is years away.

"To do that, one has to deal with many problems," he said.  "Here we are dealing with just one part of the spectrum of problems. There are a lot of things we don’t know."

UB has been working on developing a synthetic hemoglobin for five years. Working with Noble are research associates Laura Kwiatkowski, Ph.D.; Alice Wile; Hilda Hui, and Anita Wierzba.

Also funded through this new grant are research programs at Washington University in St. Louis, the lead institution; University of Iowa; Northwestern University; University of Illinois, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.