A new blood substitute with broad life-saving potential is being tested at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). The unique blood product is made with a patented chemical modification process developed by Enzon, Inc, in Piscataway, NJ, that disguises it from the body's immune system to prevent it from being attacked as a foreign substance. Called polyethylene glycol (PEG)-hemoglobin, the product combines the PEG chemical with bovine hemoglobin. UMDNJ researchers believe the product has great clinical potential, ranging from use as an emergency blood supply to a treatment for cancer.
"PEG-hemoglobin is a potentially universal blood substitute that requires no typing or cross-matching," said Dr. Richard D. Huhn, Acting Director of the Clinical Research Center at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, and principal investigator of the study. "It also has a longer shelf life and may have greater oxygen-carrying capacity than human hemoglobin, which is why cow's hemoglobin was chosen."
He added that the blood substitute eliminates the possibility of acquiring a blood-borne human infection, such as HIV or viral hepatitis, from a blood transfusion. "This safety factor may eventually make PEG-hemoglobin an ideal blood substitute for transfusions during trauma surgery or general surgery," he said.
Polyethylene glycol-hemoglobin also holds promise in cancer therapy. In laboratory studies conducted in dogs with large, radiation-resistant solid tumors, PEG-hemoglobin combined with radiation treatments proved highly effective in killing or dramatically shrinking the tumors, said Peter G. Tombros, President and Chief Executive Officer of Enzon.
"When the product was injected into dogs, it travelled to the tumors where it increased the oxygen levels, making the tumors more sensitive to radiation treatments," Mr. Tombros said. "We are hopeful that the product will prove effective in treating human cancers."
A phase I clinical trial of PEG-hemoglobin is now underway at the medical school to determine its safety and tolerability. In the study, volunteers are injected with PEG-hemoglobin once and carefully monitored for 5 days at the medical school's Clinical Research Center in New Brunswick. Volunteers are given follow-up examinations weekly for 3 weeks to gauge their reactions to the product.
"It's very early in the study, but we have some encouraging results," said Dr. Huhn. "The six persons tested so far have had no adverse reactions attributable to the product."
The UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is seeking participants for the clinical trial. All applicants must be healthy males between the ages of 18 and 45 years. They will be carefully screened before enrollment. Study subjects will be compensated for their participation. For more information, call 908-418-8461