Blood Drives are a normal part of society. It isn’t uncommon to see the “big red bus” pulled up to a university campus or shopping mall parking lot on any given day. There is seemingly always a shortage of blood to help those that are sick and injured, especially when there is a disaster. Now, it’s looking like the big red bus’ days might be numbered.
New research that has just been published in the Journal ‘Nature’ is showing extremely promising progress towards the use of stem cells as a way to manufacture blood and immune cells on a custom basis for the patient that is in need.
Dr Ryohichi Sugimura, of Boston Children’s Hospital, said: “This gives us the potential to have a limitless supply of blood stem cells and blood by taking cells from universal donors. This could potentially augment the blood supply for patients who need transfusions.
“This step opens up an opportunity to take cells from patients with genetic blood disorders, use gene editing to correct their genetic defect and make functional blood cells.”
The new research has focused largely on embryonic stem cells by exposing them to chemicals that trigger them to turn into blood stem cells. Those cells are then implanted into mice and have begun spurring on the growth of new blood cells in their bodies.
Another research group led by Dr Shahin Rafii, from Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, has successfully converted cells lining blood vessels into immature blood stem cells, which were able to fully develop once transplanted onto a layer of umbilical cord tissue.
The research has been in progress for the last twenty years and we are still several years from the new technology being as ubiquitous as donated blood. In the meantime, groups like the Red Cross and the UK’s NHS Blood and Transplant want to remind people that there is always an urgent need for donors and they hope everyone will consider donating. Amazingly, the percentage of people who donate blood has dropped by over 24% in the UK.