One of the near future goals in the tissue engineering field is the low-cost mass-manufacture of blood, removing the need for donations and blood banks. Development leading towards mass produced blood has proven a slower process than hoped, however. Here researchers report on a step forward in the generation of the necessary infrastructure technologies:
Researchers have generated the first immortalised cell lines which allow more efficient manufacture of red blood cells. The team were able to manufacture red blood cells in a more efficient scale than was previously possible. The results, could, if successfully tested in clinical trials, eventually lead to a safe source of transfusions for people with rare blood types, and in areas of the world where blood supplies are inadequate or unsafe. Previously, research in this field focused on growing donated stem cells straight into mature red blood cells. However that method presently produces small numbers of mature cells and requires repeat donations. The researchers have now developed a robust and reproducible technique which allows the production of immortalised erythroid cell lines from adult stem cells. These premature red cells can be cultured indefinitely, allowing larger-scale production, before being differentiated into mature red blood cells.
"Previous approaches to producing red blood cells have relied on various sources of stem cells which can only presently produce very limited quantities. By taking an alternative approach we have generated the first human immortalised adult erythroid line (Bristol Erythroid Line Adult or BEL-A), and in doing so, have demonstrated a feasible way to sustainably manufacture red cells for clinical use from in vitro culture. Globally, there is a need for an alternative red cell product. Cultured red blood cells have advantages over donor blood, such as reduced risk of infectious disease transmission. Scientists have been working for years on how to manufacture red blood cells to offer an alternative to donated blood to treat patients. The first therapeutic use of a cultured red cell product is likely to be for patients with rare blood groups because suitable conventional red blood cell donations can be difficult to source. The patients who stand to potentially benefit most are those with complex and life-limiting conditions like sickle cell disease and thalassemia, which can require multiple transfusions of well-matched blood."