Stem cell breakthrough paves the way for mass produced artificial blood

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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

  • Hundreds of millions of people each year need some form of blood transfusion and supplies are always stressed, this latest breakthrough could let doctors produce any type of blood on demand and save countless lives


 

Researchers at the University of Bristol (UB) have made a major breakthrough in the creation of artificial blood cells that could one day lead to the production of mass produced blood – an area that the US Army recently announced they’re also now also going to be researching.

 

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The team from the university worked alongside researchers from NHS Blood and Transplant to create a radical new process that has allowed them to mass produce artificial blood on a scale never seen before, and the breakthrough came after the team were able to make use of early stage stem cells, also known as “Immortal cells” to grow billions of red blood cells.

At present, the only way to produce artificial blood is to grow donated stem cells directly into blood cells. This is slow, inefficient and requires repeat donations in order to be of any feasible use, so as a consequence it’s only used in exceptional circumstances.

What the researchers did instead was to trap stem cells in an early stage of their development where they can multiply an unlimited number of times.

 

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A typical stem cell can produce just 50,000 red blood cells before dying out, but these immortal cells can multiply endlessly allowing for much, much larger quantities to be produced, and artificial blood produced in this way has a number significant benefits over donated blood.

“Globally, there is a need for an alternative red cell product. Cultured red blood cells have advantages over donor blood, such as reduced risk of infectious disease transmission,” explained Dr Jan Frayne, from the university’s School of Biochemistry.

While this is a major breakthrough, unfortunately we’re not going to be seeing mass produced artificial blood appearing in hospitals anytime soon, and it’s certainly not because they aren’t needed because once the technology is ready the demand will almost likely immediately outstrip supply.

“The first therapeutic use of a cultured red cell product is likely to be for patients with rare blood groups because suitable conventional red blood cell donations can be difficult to source,” said Professor Dave Anstee, Director at the NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Unit.

 

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“The patients who stand to potentially benefit most are those with complex and life limiting conditions like Sickle Cell Disease,” which had its own breakthrough recently when researchers announced a cure, said Anstee, “and Thalassemia, which can require multiple transfusions of well matched blood. The intention is not to replace blood donation but provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups.”

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, Futurist and Founder of the 311 Institute is described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers.” Among other things Matthew keeps busy helping the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers ideate the next five generations of smartphones, and what comes beyond, the world’s largest chip makers envision the next twenty years of intelligent machines, and is helping Europe’s largest energy companies re-invent energy generation, transmission and retail.

Recognised in 2013, 2015 and 2016 as one of Europe’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an award winning author, entrepreneur and international speaker who has been featured on the BBC, Discovery and other outlets. Working hand in hand with accelerators, investors, governments, multi-nationals and regulators around the world Matthew helps them envision the future and helps them transform their industries, products and go to market strategies, and shows them how the combination of new, democratised, powerful emerging technologies are helping accelerate cultural, industrial and societal change.

Matthew’s clients include Accenture, Bain & Co, Bank of America, Blackrock, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting Group, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, Du Pont, E&Y, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, HPE, Huawei, JP Morgan Chase, KPMG, Lloyds Banking Group, McKinsey & Co, PWC, Qualcomm, Rolls Royce, SAP, Samsung, Schroeder’s, Sequoia Capital, Sopra Steria, UBS, the UK’s HM Treasury, the USAF and many others.

Comments
  • Eric Drew#1

    28th March 2017

    Thank you Mathew for the informative article! New trends in medicine, especially ones that have immediate application for current patients, need a larger voice. We look forward to sharing more of your articles. Here in Silicon Valley, we have recently launched a new non-profit initiative called CrowdHealing, which will create central global conversations for hundreds of diseases and medical topics through expert panels and monthly webinars, to give the new treatment possibilities a louder voice to the patient community, and expedite new breakthroughs to the clinical setting through patient demand. I think this would be something that you would enjoy learning more about. Please visit our website http://www.WeHeal.org or contact me directly.

    Reply
    • Matthew Griffin#2

      29th March 2017

      Thanks Eric, glad you liked it – there’s so much going on in healthcare at the moment it’s a wonderful space to watch. I’ll have a look at your site, anything that helps improve people’s lives, and quality of life is to be applauded, I’ll ping you.

      Reply

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