Scientists flesh out research into synthetic blood
BRITISH scientists have turned stem cells from spare IVF embryos into red blood cells as part of a project to manufacture synthetic blood on an industrial scale.
It is believed to be the first time that human red blood cells have been created from embryonic stem cells in Britain and it marks a milestone in a project aimed at producing blood for transfusions.
The aim of the £3m (€3.7m) project is to develop an alternative source of O-negative blood, the universal donor group that can be transfused into the vast majority of the population without fear of rejection.
The project has used more than 100 spare IVF embryos from fertility clinics to establish several embryonic stem cell lines that replicate continuously in the laboratory.
One of these, known as RC-7, has been transformed from embryonic cells into blood stem cells before being converted into the functioning red blood cells that contain the oxygen-carrying pigment haemoglobin.
Professor Marc Turner, director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service in Edinburgh and leader of the project, said synthetic blood made on an industrial scale would overcome blood shortages and the risk of transmitting new infections between donors and recipients.
"At the end of this three-year period we envisage generating up to a unit (a pint) of red blood cells that fulfil all the in-vitro characteristics of red cells."
If all goes to plan, the first clinical trials of synthetic blood made from embryonic stem cells could begin within five years. The aim then is to scale up the manufacturing process to produce more than two million pints a year using industrial bio-reactors.
It would raise the possibility of producing the entire blood supply for the UK from a single 'universal blood donor' who only ever existed as a four-day-old IVF embryo.
The work on red cells is being watched with interest by researchers trying to convert embryonic stem cells into other specialised tissues. (© Independent News Service)