First transfusion of lab-grown human blood succeeds

For the first time, scientists have grown human blood in the lab and then successfully transfused it into a volunteer.

Healthcare advances mean that people are living longer lives than ever.

But with this progress comes a need that is often hard to fill: enough blood donations, or, in the case of countries suffering from the AIDS epidemic, enough donations of HIV-free blood.

That's why some news from a lab in France is particularly exciting: Scientists have grown human blood in the lab and then successfully transfused it into a volunteer.

This step could obviate the need for blood donors and lead to a day when humans can create as much blood as is needed.

The experiment

Luc Douay, of Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris, created the artificial blood using a type of stem cell that gives rise to different kinds of mature blood cells.

They extracted these cells, called hematopoetic cells, from a volunteer's bone marrow and then put them in a growth-inducing environment until they formed cultured red blood cells.

They then marked the cells so they would be easy to trace and injected ten billion of them, equivalent to two milliliters of blood, back into the volunteer's body.

The cells carried oxygen around the body as normal cells do, and survived at the same rate as well.

As New Scientist reports,

The cultured blood cells also gave every indication of being safe to use: they didn't transform into a malignant cell type, for example. Instead, they behaved like normal red blood cells, binding to oxygen and releasing it.

Douay published his results in the November 10 issue of the journal Blood.

The future of artificial blood

"This is a huge step forward," Robert Lanza, the chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology who was a part of the first team to red blood cells on a large scale in the lab, told the magazine.

The breakthrough comes after several unsuccessful attempts to create blood substitutes, that did not work well or were deemed unsafe.

"The results show promise that an unlimited blood reserve is within reach," says Douay, referring to the increasing need for blood for transfusions.

However, we are still far off from a day when we can make as much blood as we like for all the transfusions needed. A normal transfusion requires 200 times the amount created  in this experiment. And with the technology Douay used in this trial, he would need 400 liters of the fluid he used to culture those cells -- a wildly impractical amount.

Douay projects that he will be able to improve the technology and bring it to scale within several years.

Lanza also told New Scientist that other types of cells also hold promise for generating large quantities of artificial blood: embryonic stem cells and stem cells from skin samples that are coaxed into becoming blood cells.

photo: Red blood cells on a glass slide. (MDougM/Wikimedia Commons)

via: New Scientist

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