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Breakthrough! Mass Produced Artificial Blood Now Possible in Unlimited Supply

Mar 28, 2017 09:52 AM EDT
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In a major breakthrough, a team from the University of Bristol and NHS Blood and Transplant have figured out a way to “immortalize” cell lines in order to produce red blood cells on a larger scale.
(Photo : Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Scientists are already able to make artificial blood in the laboratory using stem cells. The problem is volume as existing techniques are only able to produce small amounts of artificial blood at a time before the cells burn out. In a major breakthrough, a team from the University of Bristol and NHS Blood and Transplant have figured out a way to "immortalize" cell lines in order to produce red blood cells on a larger scale.

According to an official report from the University of Bristol, the team was able to develop a new technique that has adult stem cells producing immortalized erythroid cells that can be cultured indefinitely.

"Previous approaches to producing red blood cells have relied on various sources of stem cells which can only presently produce very limited quantities," Dr. Jan Frayne of the University of Bristol's School of Biochemistry explained. "By taking an alternative approach we have generated the first human immortalized adult erythroid line (Bristol Erythroid Line Adult or BEL-A), and in doing so, have demonstrated a feasible way to sustainably manufacture red cells for clinical use from in vitro culture."

Although it's bound to be years for manufactured cells to be available, if successful, this new technology could be a game-changer for people with rare blood types and countries where blood supply is inadequate. Artificial red blood cells can also be preferable to donor blood as it offers less risk, particularly in transmitting infectious diseases.

Professor Dave Anstee, Director at the NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Unit in Red Cell Products, said that scientists have been trying for years to cook up artificial blood for patients with rare blood groups.

"The patients who stand to potentially benefit most are those with complex and life-limiting conditions like sickle cell disease and thalassemia, which can require multiple transfusions of well-matched blood," he pointed out. "The intention is not to replace blood donation but provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups."

The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

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