Ten years from now blood donation might be a thing of the past in wealthier regions of the world:
Researchers based at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) in Edinburgh hope to use stem cells to manufacture blood on an industrial scale to help end shortages and prevent infections being passed on in donations. The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has now granted a licence so scientists can make blood from stem cells which can be tested in humans - the first step towards large-scale clinical trials, which will hopefully lead to the routine use of blood created in this way.
As well as the blood research, the licences will also allow scientists in the coming years to create stem-cell products to treat patients who have suffered a stroke and people with Parkinson's disease, diabetes and cancer. But much of the attention has focused on how stem cells could be harnessed to create blood products - seen by many as the "holy grail" of blood research.
A key difference in their work going forward would be the use of stem cells derived from adult tissue - known as induced pluripotent stem cells. "In the first part of the project we used human embryonic stem cell lines and one of the problems with using those lines is you can't choose what the blood group is going to be. Over the last few years there has been a lot of work on induced pluripotent stem cells and with those an adult can donate a small piece of skin or a blood sample and the technology allows for stem-cell lines to be derived from that sample. This makes our life a lot easier in some ways because that means we can identify a person with the specific blood type we want and get them to donate a sample from which we could manufacture the cell lines."