We’re going to check any and all True Blood jokes at the door, because this is a huge, huge medical news story that seems fairly significant, yet isn’t really being given the coverage it deserves.
HBOC-201 is a hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier containing a molecule derived from cow plasma. Is is, an a manner of speaking, artificial blood. It carries oxygen to vital organs and unlike real blood it doesn’t require matching blood types and can be stored for three years without refrigeration.
Doctors at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia were able to save the life of 33-year-old Tamara Coakley after a car crash left her with severe blood loss (she only had one liter of blood in her), her heart was close to failure and “her spinal cord was almost severed, her lungs collapsed, her skull was fractured, several ribs were broken, as were her cheekbone and an elbow, and her spleen was ruptured.”
It’s not an understatement to say that Tamara Coakley was about as close to dying as one could come. To further compound the problems facing the doctors trying to save her life, Coakley was a Jehovah Witness, which means she unable to receive blood transfusions.
But blood substitutes were fine. And that’s when Dr. Mark Fitzgerald had a crazy idea.
Dr Fitzgerald was familiar with the product being developed by the US Navy because he gave independent advice on a proposed research project five years ago.
Working through the night, he negotiated with the drug manufacturer, OPK Biotech, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and airline carriers.
The Alfred’s ethics committee gave the import the green light, permission was granted under the TGA’s special access scheme and the manufacturer paid the bill.
Doctors were then able to use HBOC-201 during surgery to save Coakley’s life.
“They did everything they could, I am so grateful,” Coakley told the Daily Telegraph. Now, some are rightfully calling this a groundbreaking procedure.
“It was pioneering because The Alfred synthesised all previous efforts at use of this product in such extreme anaemia, and they got everything right,” said Professor Colin Mackenzie of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Faculty Shock Trauma Centre.
It was the first reported case of the synthetic blood reversing cardiac hypoxia and anemia in a trauma patient. The HBOC-201 was able to raise Coakley’s levels of hemoglobin to keep her alive long enough for doctors to perform surgery and for her body to naturally replace the blood she lost.
HBOC-201 is one of many synthetic bloods being developed at the moment and it would still have to undergo rigorous trials before moving from prototype to common medical tool. But. This is still a huge medical development.