Medical Services: Centers Of Excellence
The Institute for Patient Blood Management and Bloodless Medicine and Surgery at Englewood Hospital
About Hemoglobin-Based Oxygen Carriers (HBOCs)
*This is for informational purposes only as this product is not currently on the market in the USA
Blood is essential for life. This is due in part to the ability of red blood cells to transport vital oxygen to the organs of the body. We can think of them as little ships swimming with the stream of liquid in your blood vessels. Imagine; these “ships” are loaded with tiny bottles that contain oxygen. What would you do if you do not have a ship but you have to send something in a bottle to a place downstream? Just cork the bottle and throw it in the stream. So, you can transport something without a ship, just like a message in a bottle.
This simple illustration shows what hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers are. Hemoglobin, a molecule in the red cells that holds the oxygen while it is taken to the organs of the body, is the bottle, so to speak. The entire red cell is not necessary in order to transport oxygen. Hemoglobin molecules, when chemically altered (corked, so to speak), can transport oxygen as well. This finding is the basis for the development of a new kind of drug – “hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers” (HBOC’s).
Generally, the body is capable of maintaining its essential functions with a very low amount of red cells remaining, provided the body has enough fluids to circulate the cells. However, at very low blood levels, (e.g. after major blood loss), not enough oxygen can be transported. As a result, the organs of the body cannot survive for long. To treat this dangerous condition, HBOC’s can be infused. The drug takes over the oxygen transport, and bridges the time until the body is able to replace the blood loss with its own red cells.
Actually, there are different kinds of HBOC’s, each produced differently. In any case, red blood cells are broken down into their components. The hemoglobin molecule is extracted for further processing and the remaining parts of the blood cell are discarded. The end product is a red fluid containing hemoglobin molecules which is then sterilized.