by FRANKA OSAKWE
If per adventure you find yourself in a medical condition that requires blood transfusion for you to remain alive, at that point, the focus will be; getting a blood donor that will match your blood type, making sure the blood is free of infection, having it brought to the hospital on time, but these can be very challenging. More so, the right donor may not be available and other things may go wrong.
But thankfully, scientists have developed artificially created blood that will one day replace blood donations for blood transfusion.
The researchers from the University of Edinburgh have been using stem cells to create red blood cells and they have now reached an efficiency of almost 50 per cent.
In 2016, these researchers will be trying their artificial blood in three patients who need regular transfusions due to a red blood cell disorder known as thalassaemia.
If they succeed and the transfusion goes well, this breakthrough in red blood cell production could lead to a future where artificial blood is used more regularly than donated blood.
This is according to the leader of the study and Medical Director at Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), Professor Marc Turner, who predicted that artificial blood could replace donated blood as the norm for transfusion in the next 20 years.
“The artificial blood would be made from a person of the rare universal blood type ‘O’ as this can be transfused into other patients of any blood type.
“Producing an artificial blood which is of the scale, quality and safety required for human clinical trials is a very significant challenge”
“But if we can achieve success with this first trial, it will be an important step forward to enable populations all over the world to benefit from blood transfusions,” says Turner.
He stressed, however, that it will take at least 20 years before artificial blood overtakes donated blood as the source for blood transfusions and that people should not stop donating any time soon.
If artificial blood finally replaces blood donation, it is hoped that the cost of blood per unit would drop.
According to the researchers, artificial blood may also carry with it health advantages due to blood regeneration.
“Blood cells last around 100 days but not all cells are born at the same moment, so donated blood is a mixture of old and new cells.
“Artifical blood, on the other hand, would be entirely new blood cells. The major problem at the moment is scaling up production from a trial to industrial levels.
“Nonetheless if the trial proves to be a success, it would be a big step in the right direction towards making blood transfusions more widely available at a reasonable cost”, the report said.
On how the process is made, Turner explained that it involves using adult skin or blood cells that have been genetically modified into stem cells, known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
“These iPS cells are then cultured in biologic conditions that mimic the human body, eventually leading to their transition into mature red blood cells.
“The trick so far has been increasing the efficiency of this transition process, as not all the cells are capable of becoming red blood cells. The red blood cells are then separated from the rest of the cells in a centrifuge”, he said.
The team at the University of Edinburgh said they’re re-engineering the hemoglobin molecule to overcome a major problem faced by other researchers which is to make an artificial hemoglobin that isn’t toxic to the body.
According to them, the new method is able to avoid toxicity by introducing into the artificial hemoglobin, specific amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, in an effort to detoxify it.
“This artificial blood doesn’t need refrigeration, can be given to all blood types, and wouldn’t be at the mercy of willing donors”, they added.
Although similar research has been conducted elsewhere, this would be the first time that manufactured blood would be produced in appropriate quality and safety standards for transfusion into a human being.
The previous artificial blood was created by researchers from Babe-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania Romania towards the end of 2013.
The blood contained water and salts along with a protein known as hemerythrin that is extracted from sea worms.
So far the artificial blood has been tested on laboratory mice that didn’t experience any adverse side effects.
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