A Novel Cell Surface Engineering Method for Universal Red Blood Donor Cells via Combination of Enzymatic Cleavage and Polymer Grafting

Blood transfusion has a vital role in modern medicine. Not only is it required in surgery, or for the treatment of acute trauma, but patients with disorders such as thalassemia major and sickle cell anemia require chronic transfusion therapy on an ongoing basis. In chronic transfusion therapy, matching of minor antigens besides the major ABO and RhD antigens is essential; unintentional mismatching of red blood cells remains one of the most common causes of serious and fatal adverse reactions following transfusion. Creation of universal donor red blood cells has the potential to significantly decrease such incidents. Presently, there is no method available for the generation of antigen- red blood cells, in part because of the complexity of proteins on the surface of red blood cells. Previous attempts to create universal donor red blood cells include enzymatic cleavage of terminal immunodominant sugars and the covalent attachment of hydrophilic polyethylene glycol (PEG) polymers to surface proteins on red blood cells to camouflage the antigens. Enzymatic cleavage remains expensive and PEG-grafted red blood cells demonstrated shortened circulation in animal models. Dr. Rafi Chapanian’s research aims to use a novel cell-surface engineering method that combines grafting of highly biocompatible polyglycerol polymers and enhanced enzymatic cleavage of AB antigens to create universal donor red blood cells. He will develop a new powerful class of enzymes that can simultaneously remove group A and B antigens. He will use neutral additive polymers to enhance the efficiency of enzymatic cleavage and will investigate polymer grafting to make the process cost effective. Dr. Chapanian will synthesize linear, branched, and umbrella-like polyglycerol-based polymeric structures and graft them to the primary amines of proteins on the surface of red blood cells. These polyglycerol polymers are highly biocompatible, non-immunogenic and are expected to be superior to PEG polymers. Modified red blood cells will be characterized using standard in vitro testing methods and ultimately will be injected in mice to investigate their circulation. This research holds great promise for the cost-effective generation of antigen- red blood cells and has the potential to significantly improve the blood supply and enhance transfusion safety.