Researchers in China have found a way to extract an essential human blood protein from grains of rice, and development of the procedure could help with lessening blood shortages around the world. The blood protein in question is called human serum albumin (HSA), it is used to treat burns, traumatic shock and liver disease. Generally the protein is extracted from blood donations but if it were to come from rice, those blood donations would be left for patients who need whole transfusions and not just the protein. In China especially, where blood shortages are an ever growing concern, this development could save lives.

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The discovery was made by researchers at Wuhan University in China along with parters at the National Research Council of Canada and the Center for Functional Genomics at the University at Albany. The team developed a rice strain that was able to produce high levels of HSA and then perfected a method of extracting the pure protein from the rice grain.

Once extracted, they treated mice with liver cirrhosis — one of the medical ailments with which HSA is used — and the mice responded in the same way that they respond to HSA that comes from blood. “Our results suggest that a rice seed bioreactor produces cost-effective recombinant HSA that is safe and can help to satisfy an increasing worldwide demand for human serum albumin,” said the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US.

Problems standing in the way of this procedure center mostly around the agriculture industry as the production of food for purposes other than feeding Earth’s 7 billion human inhabitants becomes a greater concern. Choosing between solutions for food shortages versus blood shortages is certainly not a great decision to make.