A new artifical substitute for blood has sustained a human life for the first time in this country.
A severely ill 67-year-old Minneapolis man has remained alive and improving eight days after more than two quarts of the chemical -- an amount equal to 25 percent of his total blood volume -- were poured into his veins.
"The important thing about this chemical is that, unlike all others so-called blood or plasma 'extenders,' it carries oxygen -- it picks up oxygen in the lungs and carries it to the tissues throughout the body, like natural blood," said the patient's physician, Dr. Robert Anderson, a surgeon at the University of Minnesota Hospitals.
The new product -- a Japanese-made fluorocarbon compound called Fluosol-DA -- has saved at least nine patients in Japan. This group was described recently as "the first humans to have their lives saved with artifical blood."
An official of Alpha Therapeutic Corp. of Los Angeles, a subsidiary of Green Cross of Osaka, the Japanese maker, said yesterday that more recent reports indicate the substance "has now been successful in 47 emergency situations in Japan."
The Minnesota patient was a Jehovah's Witness who refused normal blood transfusions. He had severe anemia, and the Food and Drug Administration gave his doctor permission to use the experimental substance.
Eight of the first nine successful Japanese patients were given the chemical not because of religious tenents, but because they were threatened by excess bleeding and no blood wasened by excess bleeding and no blood was on hand to match their rare blood types.
The new blood substitute can be given regardless of blood type.
"The greatest use, a tremendous potential use, would be in natural disasters or military situations where large amounts of blood just aren't available," Anderson said.
The National Institutes of Health are financing safety tests of four similar compounds by Alpha Therapeutic. Green Cross hopes to win Japanese government permission to sell its compound as soon as it has been tried in 150 patients, as that government requires.
"It now appears to be only a matter of time and hard work" before such chemicals "can be used on a regular basis to sustain life" when blood is lacking. Science magazine said last month.
In chemical terms, Fluosol-DA is a perfluorocarbon -- a hydrocarbon in which the hydrogen atoms have been replaced by highly reactive fluorine atoms.
In 1966, a University of Cincinnati scientist successfully submerged rodents in tanks of such liquids for long periods, in a vivid demonstration of their ability to sustain life.
Fluosol had its first human test when its developer, Ryoichi Naito, injected it into his own bloodstream last year to demonstrate its safety. Other such tests have been performed in Japan and Europe. A German and Austrian team used the compound to maintain biological functions for up to 24 hours in brain-dead accident victims.
None of these tests showed any harm to the body. "But we're a long way from knowing this product's uses and limits," said Dr. Anderson in Minneapolis.
He did an operation Sept. 28 on the Minnesota patient, inserting a blood vessel graft to replace a deteriorated vessel in the right leg. The patient went home, apparently well. But he returned to the hospital on Oct. 16 highly anemic and infected -- and badly needing blood.
"His hemoglobin (red blood) count was down to 3.2 -- 15 is normal," Anderson said. "He was neurologically very disorganized. He was apparently going to die."
With the emergency FDA permit, Anderson first gave his patient a test dose of Flusol. The reaction was poor, so Anderson had another dose flown from Japan. It was given on Nov. 14. The patient's hemoglobin level has since improved by more than a third.
"He's not out of the woods yet," Anderson said. "But after the substance was given, he just sort of woke up. He began doing much better."
In any case, the Minnesota test has confirmed the fact that a patient can tolerate the substance and it can help.
"It got oxygen to the brain," Anderson said. "That's what's important."