Blood donors may no longer be needed in the future after scientists have shown it is possible to create blood from stem cells. They are said to be “tantalisingly close” to being able to make a “limitless supply” of blood to treat people with blood disorders and immune condition and help give transfusions.
Researchers have been trying to find a way to turn stem cells into blood artificially for 20 years. Now a team of researchers has managed to create a mix of different types including blood stem cells that produced various different kinds of human blood cells when put into mice.
The research, reported in the journal ‘Nature’, holds out enormous promise for developing personalised treatments for blood disorders, drug-screening and reducing shortages of donated blood.
Dr Ryohichi Sugimura, of Boston Children's Hospital, said: "This gives us the potential to have a limitless supply of blood stem cells and blood by taking cells from universal donors. This could potentially augment the blood supply for patients who need transfusions.
“This step opens up an opportunity to take cells from patients with genetic blood disorders, use gene editing to correct their genetic defect and make functional blood cells.”
In a healthy adult, blood stem cells are found in bone marrow, where they replenish the supply of red and white blood cells and platelets. When these cells don’t work properly, they fail to maintain an adequate supply of blood cells. As a result, not enough oxygen reaches the body’s tissues. This can cause serious disease if organs such as the heart are affected. Blood stem cells can also be wiped out by chemotherapy for leukaemia and other cancers.
People with these disorders tend to be treated with bone marrow – complete with blood stem cells – from a healthy donor. The difficulty is finding a match. There is a one in four chance of achieving this from a healthy sibling, but the odds are slashed to one in a million if a stranger needs to be found
NHS Blood and Transplant - the service which collects, tests and processes blood for hospitals across England - says that while hospitals have the blood needed to treat patients there is a need for more new donors.
A spokesperson for NHS Blood and Transplant said: “This represents a significant advance in the field.
“It will, however be some time before this research leads to manufactured blood cells being used for patient treatment, volunteer donors remain a vital lifeblood for patients and will remain so for many years to come.”
The spokesperson said the researchers had used “a similar approach” to one being developed by Dr Cedric Ghevaert, of Cambridge University and NHS Blood and Transplant, “for the production of platelets from stem cells”
This is a fantastic breakthrough in the development of production of blood to those who need it most.
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