Oxycyte is the newest product in a family of compounds known as artificial blood. The search for a synthetic substitute for human blood began at least as early as the 19th century, when doctors actually tried using milk to replenish blood loss. With the onset of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, pharmaceutical companies took on the cause in force, competing to create an artificial substance that could eliminate the problemsâ€”including tainted blood and supply shortagesâ€”associated with donated blood. The idea was that these substitutes could replace the use of donated blood in transfusions, during surgery, and in patients who had experienced major blood loss through injury.
Two categories of contenders soon emerged. The first was a red-colored substitute made in part from human or animal hemoglobin, the protein in our red blood cells that carries oxygen. The second was a snow-white, completely synthetic substance made from perfluorocarbons, or PFCs, a compound whose chemical makeup closely resembles the nonstick Teflon in your frying pan. PFCs have the highest gas-dissolving capacity of any liquid and, when used with supplemental oxygen, allow blood to carry many times more oxygen than it normally does (and to carry more oxygen faster and more easily than hemoglobin-based substitutes).