One of the major problems plaguing healthcare is the shortage of blood. Currently, global blood shortage is approximately 40 million units every year; most of it in developing countries.
According to a recent report by World Health Organization (WHO) out of 112 million blood donations collected globally, more than half of these come from developed high-income countries, home to only 20% of global population.
This means, about 80% of world’s population lack access to blood they may need for remedying health related treatments.
To add to this, blood donations remain viable only for 35-40 days for transfusion. Hence, there is a need of constant supply of uncontaminated blood.
According to the report by WHO, “20 countries in the world do not have 100% screening for HIV. Almost 24 do not have 100% screening for hepatitis B, 37 for hepatitis C and 24 for syphilis.”
This leaves blood transfusion very septic, which means diseases spread like wildfire. However all problems associated with blood shortage can be countered using stem cells.
GROWING RED BLOOD CELLS IN THE LAB
If we can 3D print organs, why can’t we mass-produce blood? After all, blood is a tissue.
With ever-growing worldwide demand for safe blood, there is much interest in generating red blood cells, a major component of blood, in vitro in a lab. The in vitro cultured red blood cells can have various potential advantages over donor blood, mainly reduced the risk of contagious disease transmission.
Scientists have been able to do this before, albeit with little efficiency. What they did were ‘reprogrammed’ stem cells to form red blood cells. However, they could hardly create 50,000 cells, which is nowhere near the trillions required for blood transfusion.
This is where a team of researchers at the University of Bristol has made a breakthrough. In collaboration with NHS Blood and Transplant, they have developed a novel method to mass-produce an unlimited supply of red blood cells. The study published in Nature, demonstrates a feasible method to mass-produce red blood cells for clinical use from in vitro culture.
What the researchers were able to achieve was to entrap the stem cells at a very early stage of development and hence they can divide an unlimited number of times.
IS THIS THE SOLUTION TO BLOOD SHORTAGE?
Well, this is a major breakthrough but the work is only half done.
The mass-produced artificial blood will be very expensive than the current practice of blood donation. Yet, it can be a boon to people with very rare blood types. It can also be beneficial in complex conditions like sickle cell anemia.
Professor David Anstee, Director of the Bristol Institute for Transfusion Sciences says, “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.”
Possibly, in near future, these in-vitro grown cells could potentially provide a steady source of red blood cells where blood supplies are inadequate or unsafe.
In a video posted 2 years ago, NHS predicted human trials by 2017 already!
Video credits: GeoBeats News