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Stem cells could be used to create 'endless supply of blood'

03 April 2017

By Jennifer Willows

Appeared in BioNews 895

A new method of producing red blood cells outside the body on a large scale has been developed by researchers at the University of Bristol.

'We have demonstrated a feasible way to sustainably manufacture red cells for clinical use… We've grown litres of it,' said Dr Jan Frayne, one of the authors of the research which was published in Nature Communications.

Previously the most effective technique involved taking stem cells from bone marrow, which makes blood cells in the body, and inducing them to do the same in lab conditions. This was of limited practical success because each stem cell will only make about 50,000 blood cells before dying – by comparison, a few drops of blood can contain around one billion red cells.

Working with NHS Blood and Transplant, the Bristol team overcame this limitation by engineering the stem cells to make them 'immortal', using DNA. from the human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer. Red blood cells cannot continue to divide in the bloodstream, and as they mature they shed their nuclei – and with it the virus DNA. Thus the adult cells that might in the future be given to patients, if the technique is applied in clinical trials, would not contain the any of the HPV genetic material.

'It's a brilliant approach, and they seemed to have solved several of the really important bottlenecks,' said Dr Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at the Astellas Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who was not involved in the project.

The lab-grown blood is likely to be much more expensive than donated blood, but there may be a number of potential applications. Lab-grown blood could be used for patients with rare blood types for whom a match is difficult to find. It could also be useful in military or disaster situations where there is no time for blood typing people who are critically injured. Interest has also been expressed by researchers of malaria and other blood-borne diseases.

The first studies to assess the safety of manufactured blood are due to begin at the end of this year, although the first trial will not test this new type of blood cell. Even if safety is established, for the time being there is not currently enough capacity to produce it and industrialising the process could be costly.

'To make big huge vats of it would be outside of our ability in a research lab,' said Dr Frayne. 'We'd have to have company interest.'

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

22 May 2017 - by Paul Waldron 
In two different studies, US scientists have succeeded in creating the stem cells which produce blood...
15 May 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
One of the world's largest sets of human stem cell lines from healthy people was unveiled last week...

06 March 2017 - by Ayala Ochert 
A teenage boy in France appears to have been cured of sickle cell disease using a gene therapy. He has been free of all signs of the disease for 15 months...
09 January 2017 - by Paul Waldron 
Researchers in the US and China have developed a 'synthetic stem cell' that can repair tissue damaged by a heart attack...
29 June 2015 - by Dr James Heather 
The NHS has announced that it plans to begin testing laboratory-produced blood in healthy volunteers by 2017...
03 June 2013 - by Dr Amina Aitsi-Selmi 
The first human trials of synthetic blood look set to go ahead in the UK...
31 October 2011 - by Oliver Timmis 
Artificial blood, manufactured from human stem cells, could be used in patient trials within two years. The blood will be based on the universal donor group (O rhesus negative), a blood type suitable for up to 98 percent of the population...

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