Stem cell technology is one of the most promising discoveries in the medical field. It’s been used as a platform to develop a variety of medical applications. Nowadays, it has been successfully used to grow fresh human blood.
In response to a request from the US military, researchers from the UK and Irish Blood services have teamed together last 2007 to build a machine that could be easily dropped off from a helicopter to a battlefield to supply wounded soldiers with stem cell-derived blood. Unfortunately, their first attempt was unsuccessful.
However, refusing to abort the mission, the team decided to refocus their efforts and came up with a similar technology that enables clinics all over the world to gain access to a limitless supply of lab-grown blood. The use of blood grown from stem cells would be highly beneficial to the field of medicine. As the blood supply is guaranteed to be fresh at all times, it would remove the risks of getting any infections from a transfusion.
The team has chosen to work with induced pluripotent or embryonic stem cells, which have the capacity to differentiate into various types of cells when placed in the right culture conditions. The team has changed their protocol to focus more on red blood cells after a year from human testing.
The project is led by the medical director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service along with Joanne Mountford of the University of Glasgow. According to Mountford, they are simply executing as what nature intended since they are making blood from human cells. “It’s the same thing your body makes but we’re just doing it in a lab.” She says.
She also went further to explain the advantages of using lab-grown blood over the traditional way of obtaining blood from a human donor. Mountford and her team propose that recipients of engineered red blood cells will receive “fresher and potentially more effective blood” as compared to blood taken from a donor, which are likely 110 or more days old. The latter batch is more likely to die sooner and won’t do the recipient much good. Aside from that, the team is also making type-O blood, which means it can be transfused to all types of patients even those with the rare AB-negative blood type.
Having a limitless supply of this stem cell-grown blood will take away the hassle of segregating and rearranging the different types of blood. Simplifying the logistics of global distribution, this process allows vital blood supply to flow faster and more efficiently to whoever needs it in whichever part of the world.
However, there are also challenges in implementing the fruits of the study into actual clinical practice. According to Mountford, it is possible for her team to produce around 10 billion red blood cells per batch. However, they still have a long way to go to beat the trillion cells contained in a single bag of blood coming from an average human donor. Moreover, in order for the actual process to be effective all over the world, her team would have to figure out a way to get it done at a cost that would suit the capacities of the developing world.