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Synthetic Blood for Everyone

British scientists are embarking on a 3 year plan to be the first to mass-produce synthetic blood.

The project is being led by the SNBTS-Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

The idea here is to take left-over embryos from In Vitro Fertilization and find one that would produce Type O blood. This is the blood type that is the universal donor so tissue rejection does not happen. Anyone can receive type-O.

For our so-inclined Japanese readers:
Remember…blood type-O people are very social and outgoing
They are Creative and popular, and love to be the center of attention and appear very self confident.

OK, back to reality…

Once you’ve identified the embryo that has the genetic code for type O blood, you give its stems cells the appropriate nutrients and bam…you have a literal unending supply of mature red blood cells.

Not only that…blood cells produced this way can’t transmit infections or blood diseases or otherwise taint the blood supply.

Cancer as well is not a concern either because red blood cells are anucleated, they don’t have a nucleus. Ever wonder why red blood cells have that unusual depressed-center shape? It’s because the center bulge that carries the dna is ejected during development of the cell. This was a key development during mammalian evolution. Fish, reptiles, and birds have nuclei but they are inactive. Ours allows more hemoglobin to be carried and thus more oxygen which gives us a more efficient metabolism. Pretty cool (and daring) innovation, way to go evolution.

The US may have dropped the ball on this one. Last year a U.S. group called Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) used this very technique to produce billions of blood cells. Apparently, they renounced the project due to the limits set up by the Bush administration. Maybe they’ll un-renounce it now that those limits have been raised.

The biggest hurdle then for the British scientists is one of scale. ACT produced billions of cells which is the record but a liter of blood has about 5 trillion cells or 5000 times the number produced by ACT.

If this pans out we may see blood factories in our lifetimes that can be brought to disaster zones and battlefields. The US Dept of defense has stated that it would put one on the back of military vehicles.

One pesky annoyance for me about this news item was the term “artificial blood” itself.

This is artificial blood in that it is created in the lab and not in a person. But unlike synth bloods in the past, this is as real as it gets. It isn’t some thin green artificial goo that happens to carry oxygen like real blood. This stuff would be indistinguishable from the blood cells you’re making right now.  I’d call it synthetically produced real blood.

So what about the green-goo synthetic blood that scientists have been working on for years?

This type of synthetic blood has been the holy grail of blood scientists for quite some time. Imagine no refrigeration and blood typing requirements. One approach has been to use a chemical called perfluorocarbons to hold oxygen and mix in with the blood. This has limited use however since its oxygen carrying capacity is limited. Another approach was to use pure hemoglobin itself as the oxygen carrier. Unfortunately this method presented problems as well. In fact, a recent compilation of clinical trial results from various companies showed a 30% increase in deaths from their blood substitute products.

And so it would seem that this new synthetically produced blood using stem cells couldn’t have come at a better time.

I wonder if vampires will start coming out of the closet now.


4 comments to Synthetic Blood for Everyone

  • Finally Bob, the day is coming where we can reveal ourselves to the world and stop hiding like frightened children.

  • John Powell

    “Cloned blood” would be a more accurate term. Brand name suggestions:

    RealBlood
    TruBlood
    O
    BTO

  • llysenwi

    Actually, this blood could transmit infection. Cell culture can easily serve as a resevoir for pathogens. This method, however, would be easier and less expensive to do quality control, both by maintaining sterile environments and checking for contamination before distribution, than in traditional blood donation, dramatically reducing the risk of infection.

  • rachelwells

    Luckily, I’m half Japanese and happen to feel half of all these things. Coinkydink? I think not.

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