Soon We May Be Mass Producing Human Blood

Researchers in the UK have developed a technique to culture universal type-O blood from stem cells. It's the first time scientists have manufactured blood to the appropriate quality and safety standards for transfusion into a human being. It's a breakthrough that could eventually end blood shortages in emergencies.

Marc Turner is the principal researcher in this £5 million (USD $8.37 million ) project, one that's funded by the Wellcome Trust. He recently told The Telegraph about how he made red blood cells fit for clinical transfusion.

During the process, red blood cells are cultured from induced pluripotent stems cells. These are cells that have been extracted from humans and then "rewound" into stem cells. Biochemical conditions similar to what happens inside the human body facilitate the conversion of these undifferentiated cells into viable red blood cells — the rare universal blood type O.

Because the blood can be produced with the required quality, clinical trials are set to begin. From The Telegraph:

There are plans in place for the trial to be concluded by late 2016 or early 2017, he said. It will most likely involve the treatment of three patients with Thalassaemia, a blood disorder requiring regular transfusions. The behaviour of the manufactured blood cells will then be monitored.

"The cells will be safe," he said, adding that there are processes whereby cells can be removed.

The technique highlights the prospect of a limitless supply of manufactured type-O blood, free of disease and compatible with all patients.

"Although blood banks are well-stocked in the UK and transfusion has been largely safe since the Hepatitis B and HIV infections of the 1970s and 1980s, many parts of the world still have problems with transfusing blood," said Prof Turner.

Indeed, assuming the blood is as safe as Turner hopes, the next challenge will be to scale up the process to industrial levels. This will be no small feat considering that, in the UK alone, there are two million units of blood transfused each year.

Read the rest of the article at The Telegraph.

Image: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock.