Researchers at the University of Vermont say that the identification of these two new types of blood will have major medical benefits in the fields of transfusions and organ transplants, as well as foetal development and the fight against cancer.
Biologist Bryan Ballif, who lead the team that solved the riddle of the two new blood types, explained: ‘More than 50,000 Japanese are thought to be Junior negative, and may encounter blood transfusion problems or mother-foetus incompatibility.’
In the February issue of Nature Genetics, Professor Ballif and his colleagues report on their discovery of two proteins on red blood cells responsible for these lesser-known blood types.
Professor Ballif identified the two molecules as specialised transport proteins, named ABCB6 and ABCG2.
He said: ‘Only 30 proteins have previously been identified as responsible for a basic blood type… but the count now reaches 32.’
The discovery of two new blood group proteins in the same year is made even more remarkable by the fact that the last to be discovered was more than a decade ago.
Both of the newly identified proteins are also associated with anti-cancer drug resistance, so the findings may also have implications for improved treatment of breast and other cancers.
In a truly international effort, Professor Ballif analysed proteins purified by his longtime collaborator, Lionel Arnaud at the French National Institute for Blood Transfusion in Paris, France.