Sheffield scientists develop artificial blood

Photo of the 'plastic blood' before and after water has been added.
Photo of the 'plastic blood' before and after water has been added.

Scientists from the University of Sheffield are developing an artificial 'plastic blood', which could act as a substitute for real blood in emergency situations. The 'plastic blood', which will be on display at the Science Museum this month, could have a huge impact on military applications.

Because the artificial blood is made from a plastic, it is light to carry and easy to store. Doctors could store the substitute as a thick paste in a blood bag and then dissolve it in water just before giving it to patients – meaning it's easier to transport than liquid blood.

Donated blood has a relatively short shelf-life of 35 days, after which it must be thrown away. It also needs refrigeration, whereas the 'plastic blood' will be storable for many more days and is stable at room temperature.

The artificial blood is made of plastic molecules that hold an iron atom at their core, just like haemoglobin, that can bind oxygen and could transport it around the body. The small plastic molecules join together in a tree-like branching structure, with a size and shape very similar to that of natural haemoglobin molecules. This creates the right environment for the iron to bind oxygen in the lungs and release it in the body.

While still in its development, the scientists hope this will make it particularly useful for military applications and being plastic, it's also affordable. The scientists are now seeking further funding to develop a final prototype that would be suitable for biological testing.

A cartoon of the polymer plus the spectrophotometric result.
A cartoon of the polymer plus the spectrophotometric result.

Dr Lance Twyman, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield and who has been developing the artificial blood for the last five years, said: "We are very excited about the potential for this product and about the fact that this could save lives. Many people die from superficial wounds when they are trapped in an accident or are injured on the battlefield and can't get blood before they get to hospital. This product can be stored a lot more easily than blood, meaning large quantities could be carried easily by ambulances and the armed forces.

He added: "I hope people take the opportunity to go and see the display at the Science Museum and hopefully in the future it will be more than just a prototype, but will be a real product used in life or death situations."

A sample of the current artificial blood prototype will be on display at the Science Museum from 22 May 2007 as part of a new exhibition entitled 'Plasticity – 100 years of making plastics'.

The exhibition, which will run until January 2009, will cover the history, development and future of plastics and present some of the most practical, ingenious and strange uses of polythene, PVC, nylon, polyester and many others in fashion, the home, design, transport and more.


For further information please contact Dr Lance Twyman at:

tel: 0114 22 29560

email : l.j.twyman@sheffield.ac.uk