DARPA works on a readily available blood substitute for trauma settings

The new blood is meant to sustain warfighters and civilian casualties in austere, pre-hospital settings.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An illustration of red blood cells.jpg
An illustration of red blood cells.


Lack of readily available blood is the most common cause of potentially survivable death in trauma. This is because whole blood is complicated to manage as it requires cold storage, has limited viability, and is not always available. 

Blood should be administered in 30 minutes or less

Making things even more difficult is the fact that, to improve chances of survival in trauma settings, patients should be administered blood in 30 minutes or less of an incident. This is something that is often not achievable with real donated blood.

Now, DARPA’s Fieldable Solutions for Hemorrhage with bio-Artificial Resuscitation Products (FSHARP) program has an ambitious plan to engineer a whole blood equivalent that can be used to resuscitate trauma patients when real blood is not readily available, according to a press release by the organization published on Tuesday.

“When blood donations decline – as we have seen during the COVID pandemic – that threatens availability everywhere, even in high resource settings. Blood availability also could be at risk in military engagements with large numbers of casualties, with a sudden and significant increase in need,” stated Cmdr. Jean-Paul Chretien, DARPA’s program manager for FSHARP and a U.S. Navy medical officer. 

“The primary problem FSHARP aims to solve is whole blood’s dependence on cold chain and resupply.”

Ultimately, the FSHARP program aims to leverage advances in bio-artificial blood substitute technologies to develop field deployable, shelf-stable hemorrhage countermeasures to sustain warfighters and civilian casualties in austere, pre-hospital settings.

The FSHARP team plans to do this by integrating multiple bio-artificial and synthetic components to create a product that has the ability to deliver oxygen, stop bleeding, and replace volume. The team will further evaluate its product's efficacy and safety in increasingly complex and realistic trauma models.

They are also working on strategies for stabilizing the product for months without cold storage.

A multi-purpose team for a lofty goal

A team at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) has been selected to lead this effort with additional support provided by Case Western Reserve University, Charles River Laboratories, Haima Therapeutics, KaloCyte Inc., Latham Biopharm Group, Ohio State University, Pumas-AI Inc., Southwest Research Institute, Teleflex Incorporated, the University of California San Diego, and the University of Pittsburgh. 

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“This is truly a ‘DARPA Hard’ problem and an example of DARPA’s ability to facilitate the partnerships needed to achieve technological breakthroughs,” added Chretien. 

“To address FSHARP’s goals requires multiple universities and companies developing analogs of various blood components, simultaneous evaluation of multiple efficacy and safety features and interactions among components in various model systems, industrial-scale manufacturing capabilities that can adapt the lab-scale methods, and analytics to integrate large volumes of experimental data and guide further optimization. UMB has assembled a consortium with the broad capabilities needed to accomplish these tasks.”

In November of 2022, in what was called a breakthrough in medical science, red blood cells grown in a laboratory were transfused into volunteers in a world-first clinical trial. Is the future of transfusion artificial blood?

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