Researchers at the University of Bristol have made a major breakthrough in the creation of artificial blood cells that could one day lead to the production of mass produced blood.
The team from the University worked alongside researchers from NHS Blood and Transplant to create a radical new process that has allowed them to mass produce artificial blood on a scale not yet seen.
The breakthrough came after the team were able to make use of early-stage stem cells or immortal cells to grow billions of red blood cells.
At present, the only way to produce artificial blood is to grow donated stem cells directly into blood cells. This is slow, inefficient and requires repeat donations in order to be of any feasible use.
What the researchers did instead was to trap stem cells in an early stage of their development where they can multiply an unlimited number of times.
A typical stem cell can produce just 50,000 red blood cells before dying out, these immortal cells can multiply endlessly allowing for much larger quantities of production. Artificial blood has a number significant benefits over donated blood.
“Globally, there is a need for an alternative red cell product. Cultured red blood cells have advantages over donor blood, such as reduced risk of infectious disease transmission.” explains Dr Jan Frayne, from the University of Bristol’s School of Biochemistry.
While this is a major breakthrough, we’re not going to be seeing mass produced artificial blood appearing in hospitals anytime soon.
“The first therapeutic use of a cultured red cell product is likely to be for patients with rare blood groups because suitable conventional red blood cell donations can be difficult to source.” explains Professor Dave Anstee, Director at the NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Unit.
“The patients who stand to potentially benefit most are those with complex and life-limiting conditions like sickle cell disease and thalassemia, which can require multiple transfusions of well-matched blood. The intention is not to replace blood donation but provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups.”