Hemoglobin-Based Blood Substitutes and the Treatment of Sickle Cell Disease: More Harm than Help?

Biomolecules. 2017 Jan 4;7(1):2. doi: 10.3390/biom7010002.


Intense efforts have been made by both industry and academia over the last three decades to produce viable hemoglobin (Hb)-based oxygen carriers (HBOCs), also known as "blood substitutes". Human trials conducted so far by several manufactures in a variety of clinical indications, including trauma, and elective surgeries have failed and no product has gained the Food and Drug Administration approval for human use. Safety concerns due to frequent incidences of hemodynamic, cardiac events, and even death led to the termination of some of these trials. Several second generation HBOC products that have been chemically and/or genetically modified (or in some cases ligated with carbon monoxide (CO)) found a new clinical application in conditions as complex as sickle cell disease (SCD). By virtue of higher oxygen affinity (P50) (R-state), and smaller size, HBOCs may be able to reach the microvasculature unload of oxygen to reverse the cycles of sickling/unsickling of the deoxy-sickle cell Hb (HbS) (T-state), thus preventing vaso-occlusion, a central event in SCD pathophysiology. However, biochemically, it is thought that outside the red blood cell (due to frequent hemolysis), free HbS or infused HBOCs are capable of interfering with a number of oxidative and signaling pathways and may, thus, negate any benefit that HBOCs may provide. This review discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using HBOCs in SCD.

Keywords: blood substitutes; heme oxidation; hemoglobin; sickle cell disease.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / drug therapy*
  • Blood Substitutes / adverse effects*
  • Blood Substitutes / pharmacology
  • Blood Substitutes / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Approval
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Blood Substitutes