Back in 2008, Darpa launched the Blood Pharming program. Pharming is the name for a genetically altered plant or animal that can produce an excess of some valuable property, like insulin or cheap vaccines.
The Blood Pharming project was, obviously, created to pharm blood, especially in military medical situations. Darpa contracted a Cleveland biotech firm called Arteriocyte for a mere $1.95 million for the project, and Arteriocyte now has a prototype that's ready to ship off to the Food and Drug Administration for testing. Says Wired:
The blood was produced using hematopoietic cells, derived from embryonic cord-blood units. Currently, it takes Arteriocyte scientists three days to turn a single umbilical cord unit into 20 units of RBC-packed blood. The average soldier needs six units during trauma treatment.
One unit of pharmed blood currently costs about $5,000--Darpa estimates that that price will have to sink to about $1,000 before it's financially viable, but one it gets FDA approval, there should be little problem to ramp up production and lower the price.
There's another wrinkle that makes pharmed blood desirable: time. Most blood used in military medical situations is donated on physical U.S. soil, often very far from the action, as in our current major military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the actual shelf life of blood is disputed (some say two weeks, some say four weeks, some say six), blood usually takes around 21 days to reach its intended host. By that time it is, if not actually expired, certainly "stale," as Arteriocyte's CEO puts it.
But pharmed blood can be produced on-site in much greater quantities, rather than having to be shipped from the States. That could be a huge advantage for this somewhat-artificial blood.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com