University of Vermont

Bryan Ballif

Professor of biology, research team discovered two new blood proteins

Bryan Ballif

You probably know your blood type: A, B, AB or O. You may even know if you’re Rhesus positive or negative. But how about the Langereis blood type? Or the Junior blood type? Positive or negative? Most people have never even heard of these, yet this knowledge could be “a matter of life and death,” says UVM biologist Bryan Ballif.

In an issue of Nature Genetics, Ballif and his colleagues report on their discovery of two proteins on red blood cells responsible for these lesser-known blood types.

The last new blood group proteins to be discovered were nearly a decade ago, Ballif says, “so it’s pretty remarkable to have two identified this year."

Health care professionals will now be able to more rapidly, routinely and confidently screen for these novel blood group proteins, Ballif wrote. "This will leave them better prepared to have blood ready when blood transfusions or other tissue donations are required," he notes. Both of the newly identified proteins are also associated with anticancer drug resistance, so the findings may have implications for improved treatment of breast and other cancers.

 

Cross-border science

As part of the international effort, Ballif, assistant professor in the biology department, used a mass spectrometer at UVM funded by the Vermont Genetics Network. With this machine, he analyzed proteins purified by his longtime collaborator, Lionel Arnaud at the French National Institute for Blood Transfusion in Paris, France.

Ballif and Arnaud, in turn, relied on antibodies to Langereis and Junior blood antigens developed by affiliates working in blood centers in Japan.

After the protein identification in Vermont, the work returned to France. There Arnaud and his team conducted cellular and genetic tests confirming that these proteins were responsible for the Langereis and Junior blood types. “He was able to test the gene sequence,” Ballif says, “and, sure enough, we found mutations in this particular gene for all the people in our sample who have these problems."