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Research

We love blood groups!

My translational research group in the field of Transfusion Medicine investigates the biology of the Red Blood Cell and its surface molecules. Particularly, we study the genetics, structure and function of the polymorphic carbohydrates and proteins we call Blood Groups.

Over 80% of our own cells are red blood cells. Lately, this abundant cell has gone from sometimes being viewed as an inert bag full of hemoglobin to becoming seen as a highly active and interactive cell, despite its lack of nucleus. In addition, blood transfusion is a crucial part of modern medicine and every year some 400,000 blood units from Swedish blood donors must end up in the right patient to avoid adverse events caused by blood group incompatibility. The corresponding figure according to WHO is almost 120 million globally.

Our diverse team has a strong track record of discovery and characterization of blood groups during the past 25 or so years. This has made possible the development of DNA-based blood group typing concepts which are now widely used in clinical practice worldwide.

Currently, we focus on three main areas
1. Blood group discovery and function- Our work to elucidate the genetic basis of blood group expression has previously resulted in establishement of five new blood group systems (GLOB, VEL, FORS, SID and MAM) and revealed the molecular basis underlying numerous blood group antigens. Despite this, there are still ~40 orphan blood groups, i.e. without a molecular and genetic home. Right now, we are pursuing some of these. Part of this project is also to understand the novel finding that selected red blood cell surface molecules have regulatory roles during erythropoiesis. This includes the newly-discovered erythroid SMIM1 protein we reported in 2013, the function of which is still essentially unknown. It also targets the recent finding that EMP3 carries the MAM blood group and that hematopoietic progenitor cells lacking this protein produces more reticulocytes in erythroid culture.

2. Host-pathogen interactions - We have investigated how the red blood cell and its surface molecules interact with virus (e.g. HIV), parasites (e.g. babesiosis and malaria) and bacteria (e.g. E.coli and S. pyogenes). Current projects focus on yet other microbes. Here, we also investigate bacterial exoglycosidase enzymes with the ability to convert group A, B or AB cells to type as universal group O. In addition, we investigate the role of extended glycan structures in causing blood gruop incompatibility following such conversion.

3. Exploring the emerging role of red blood cell in hemostasis - The past few years, the importance of red blood cells in thrombus formation has become obvious but mechanisms and molecular interactions underlying this role are lacking. We study interactions between the red blood cell and coagulation factors or other cells.

Currently well funded by the Swedish Research Council (9 MSEK; 2020-2024), the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (30 MSEK; 2016-2026), governmental ALF research grants to university healthcare (>10 MSEK; 2019-2022) and Mats Paulsson's Foundation (2 MSEK; 2020-2021), as well as other funding bodies, our award-winning research strives to improve compatibility between blood donors and transfusion recipients but also to investigate new roles related to erythropoiesis, infection and clot formation for the red blood cell in health and disease.

UKÄ subject classification

  • Hematology

Keywords

  • Red Blood Cell
  • Blood Group
  • Blood Transfusion
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Hemostasis
  • Genetics

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