For the first time, small doses of “cultured” blood in the laboratory were administered to human volunteers inside of a British clinical study which is experiencing a procedure never attempted before. The artificial blood was obtained from donor stem cells and then transfused into two healthy adults: for the moment the goal is to understand how long it lasts in the body, compared to the “standard” blood used in these procedures.
Spare bags. The study is part of an initiative called RESTORE, carried out by the universities of Cambridge and Bristol together with doctors and researchers from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The ultimate goal of the project is not to replace the blood generously offered by donors, but rather to secure a technique to produce the ultra-rare blood types virtually impossible to find in an emergency.
Though the main main blood groups are four – A, B, 0 and AB, each divided into two distinct categories from Rh factor – the level of compatibility between donor and recipient required in transfusions goes beyond these macro subdivisions: there are people with blood phenotypes so rare that they are theoretically compatible with only a dozen possible donors in an entire country.
How it was obtained. The study focused on red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. We started with a normal donation of 470 ml of blood, from which stem cells capable of transforming into red blood cells were extracted and separated; these cells were encouraged to grow in large numbers and differentiate in the laboratory, in a process that took a total of three weeks.
The first two participants received the equivalent of one or two teaspoons of artificial blood (5-10 millimeters), much less than that poured into normal transfusions. Carefully monitored, they are doing well and have shown no signs of rejection. The trial will be extended to at least 10 healthy volunteers who will receive the same amount of blood in two versions, normal or obtained in the laboratory, at least four months apart. The artificial blood will have a “special” characteristic – it will be marked with a radioactive substance, harmless to humans and often used in medical procedures, which will allow to measure its permanence in the body.
Better than “real” blood? Scientists suspect that red blood cells grown from stem cells resist longer in the body than normally donated blood: they are in fact newly born cells, all equally young and fresh and therefore longer-lived on paper, unlike those collected. by donors who are inevitably in different stages of their cellular life.
Great potential. Red blood cells typically survive for 120 days before being replaced. A typical bag of donated blood contains a mix of old and young cells, while those obtained from stem cells, all starting “from scratch” should last for the full 120 days. If this were confirmed, it would pave the way for less frequent donations and less blood for people who often have to resort to this procedure.
“If safe and effective, artificial blood could over time revolutionize treatments for people with blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia (an inherited condition affecting red blood cells, ed) or with rare types of blood “write the authors of the study. “Patients who need blood regularly may not need transfusions as often. This would reduce the iron overload from frequent transfusions, which can lead to serious complications.
Let’s roll up our sleeves (and stretch out our arms). However, it will take time before artificial blood enters the approved medical treatments by right: blood transfusions will continue to be possible thanks to the altruism and civic sense of those who give regularly. For now, the procedure remains very expensive and time-consuming, and the quantities of blood obtainable are rather limited. But we must start somewhere as well.
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Artificial blood transfusions have begun – Focus.it
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