For the rough-and-tumble world of military combat, bloodresearchers associated with the armed forces have longdreamed of supplying blood freeze-dried like coffee so it couldsimply be mixed with water and used.

Unfortunately, red blood cells tend to deflate like a collapsedparachute under the rigors of freezing and drying. But a patentannounced Monday may bring that dream a step closer toreality.

Cryopharm Corporation of Pasadena, Calif. received U.S. patentNo. 5,178,884 on Jan. 12 covering the freeze-drying of redblood cells. The method maintains the cell structure and thebiological activity of hemoglobin molecules within the cells,which ferry oxygen from lungs to the tissue.

The company also received U.S. patent No. 5,171,661 on Dec.15, 1992, covering a freeze-drying technique to preserve redblood cells and potentially extend their current average one-month shelf life for up to several years, said Roger Hackett,vice president and director of corporate development.

Cryopharm has raised some $15 million in private financingsince 1987, Hackett said, primarily from E.M. Warburg, Pincus& Co. of New York. The company plans to file an applicationwith FDA this year to conduct clinical trials for its red blood cellcryopreservative solution.

The privately held company was formed in 1987 after JohnBaldeschwieler, a chemistry professor at the California Instituteof Technology in Pasadena and Raymond Goodrich, tried toapply their work in freeze-drying liposomes to natural cells.The pair developed new methods that have resulted in theissuance of nine U. S. patents so far, Hackett said, plus twomore that have received notice of allowance, and about 20pending U.S. patent applications.

"I think from a patent point of view, we have it pretty wellcarved out," he said. The most recent patent involvespreserving red blood cell membranes with sugars andemploying polymers to delay decay during storage.

Blood banks currently store a fraction of their supply atextremely low temperatures, but this long-term storagemethod is expensive. Cryopharm is attempting to develop long-term, cost-effective ways to store blood cells.

"These two patents," said Carl Brooks, Cryopharm's presidentand chief executive officer, "potentially offer a much lessexpensive method of maintaining a sufficient blood supply foruse in lifesaving surgeries and transfusions."

Hackett adds that the patent issued in January potentiallyapplies to artificial packets of hemoglobin called hemosomesthat are being developed as a red blood cell substitute.Although the market for blood substitutes is being avidlypursued by such conglomerates as Baxter International,Cryopharm primarily focuses on developing better ways topreserve natural human blood cells.

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.