“Lab-Grown Blood Given to Volunteer For the First Time”

From New Scientist:

RED blood cells generated in a lab have been successfully injected into a human volunteer for the first time. This is a vital step towards a future in which all the blood we need for transfusions can be made in the lab, so that blood donors are no longer essential.

Luc Douay at Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris, and his colleagues extracted what are called hematopoetic stem cells from a volunteer’s bone marrow.

Hematopoietic stem cells are cells that can turn into any kind of blood cell. They’re a step in the path between embryonic stem cells, at the least differentiated extreme, and a specific type of blood cell, at the most differentiated extreme.

These cells were encouraged to grow into cultured red blood cells using a cocktail of growth factors. After labelling the cells so they could be traced, Douay’s team injected 10 billion – the equivalent of 2 millilitres of blood – back into the original donor to see how they survived…

“The results show promise that an unlimited blood reserve is within reach,” says Douay. That blood reserve is needed urgently. Although blood donations are increasing in many developed countries, blood banks struggle to keep up with the demands of ageing populations who need more operations – often involving blood transfusions. And a source of HIV-free blood is essential in countries with high rates of HIV infection…

Douay’s next challenge is to scale up production to a point where the cultured blood cells can be made quickly and cheaply in sufficient quantities for blood transfusions. The 10 billion cells his team made wouldn’t go very far – a transfusion typically requires 200 times that number. With his existing technology, Douay estimates that a single transfusion would require 400 litres of culture fluid, which is clearly impractical. “We are still a long way from the vision of dropping a couple of stem cells into the broth and making endless units of blood,” says John Hess of the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

Douay believes that it may take several years to scale up the technology. Another possibility is to use embryonic stem cells instead, as Lanza did in 2008. “We can generate up to 100 billion red blood cells from a single six-well plate of stem cells,” Lanza says. He also claims to have made red blood cells through yet another technique: generating “induced pluripotent” stem cells from skin samples and coaxing those stem cells into becoming blood cells.

This sounds like great news. Blood donations are always in need; supplementing those with lab-created blood should be a relief for patients in need of transfusions. New Scientist also gave us this handy-dandy timeline of the path to artificial blood, for your learning pleasure:

If you’re wondering what the “Rhesus blood group” it’s referring to above means, it’s a property of different blood types, part of which we’re familiar with by the positive/negative classification of our blood.

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