Using immortal stem cells, scientists have developed a method to produce unlimited supply of red blood cells. The process is costly but the artificial blood may help patients with rare blood types and in cases of emergency when there is shortage of donated blood supply.
Earlier approaches involve producing red blood cells that rely on various sources of stem cells that can currently only produce limited quantities. Jan Frayne, from the University of Bristol, said that the new approach, offers a more sustainable way to produce red blood cells as it allows the production of millions of functional red blood cells that can lead to a safe source of transfusion for individuals with rare blood types as well as compensate for shortages in blood donation.
Immortal Stem Cells
The new method involves use of early-stage stem cells or immortal cells to produce billions of red blood cells. Instead of using the current process that requires donated stem cells being grown directly into blood cells, which is slow, inefficient and needs repeat donations, the researchers trapped stem cells in their early stage of development, during which they can multiply for an unlimited number of time.
Stem cells typically produce only 50,000 red blood cells before they die out but these immortal cells can multiply endlessly, which makes possible larger quantities of productions.
"In this study we generate the first human immortalized adult erythroid line (Bristol Erythroid Line Adult; BEL-A), which provides a sustainable supply of erythroid cells. It is the first erythroid line to fully recapitulate normal erythropoiesis, enucleating to generate mature reticulocytes," researchers wrote in their study.
Potential Uses Of Artificial Blood
Researchers said that scientists have been working on ways to manufacture red blood cells to provide an alternative to donated blood needed to treat patients. Among the patients who can potentially benefit from the cultural red cell product include those who have complex conditions such as thalassemia and sickle cell disease which need multiple transfusions of well-matched blood.
Advantages Of Artificial Blood Over Donated Blood
Although the artificial blood is not intended to be a replacement to blood donation but as a specialized treatment for certain patient groups, researchers acknowledged that these cultured red blood cells do have potential advantages over donor blood.
Among these advantages include reduced risk of contracting disease during transmission. Donated blood that is contaminated can potentially transmit health problems to the recipient. The artificial blood can also help reduce the volume and number of transfusions for patients with blood diseases and certain cancers, which could reduce the unwanted consequence of organ damage due to iron overload.
"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," Frayne said.
Despite the optimism and potentials of producing unlimited supply of blood using immortal stem cells, the researchers acknowledged that it would take many years before the manufactured red blood cells could become available on a large scale.