Researchers working on stem cell studies have discovered a way to produce lab-grown red blood cells.
Whilst blood shortages are often only highlighted during natural disasters – whereby the international call for action sparks desperation amongst medical professionals, these shortages are often everyday struggles.
These same shortages can prove fatal for patients who undergo intensive surgery and need large doses of blood to survive.
In a recent study, published in Cell Stem Cell journal, scientists have discovered a promising new way to produce the growth of red blood cells in laboratories.
The cells, which perform critical oxygen-ferrying duties, are currently operating on a much higher success rate, in terms of yield, than previous research has been able to produce.
The research team at Boston Children’s Hospital began by taking blood stem cells, which then mature into all of the blood cells, and performing genetic surgery – promoting the likelihood of producing more red blood cells.
The team, lead by Dr. Vijay Sankaran, assistant professor of paediatrics at the hospital, found a particular gene that was linked to lower levels of red blood cells. By ‘disarming’ this gene, researchers believed they had found a way to boost the number of cells created.
By surgically altering the gene that was hindering the cellular process, the researchers were able to triple the number of red blood cells that were previously allowed to grow naturally, without alteration, in a lab dish.
These findings open up potential ways for hospitals to ensure access to adequate amounts of blood needed for day-to-day emergencies.
“We know that if we can make these cells, and improve upon the process, hopefully future blood shortages will not be a problem at all,” says Sankaran.
The team has also pointed to the potential for this research to be used in alternative cell types, including muscle and nerve cells that are often destroyed by various diseases.
“We can imagine other cell types we want to produce in regenerative medicine where we can get increased yields of cells,” according to Sankaran.
The pharmaceutical industry could also reap the benefits of this research by using the study to investigate how to properly deliver medications directly to cells. This could bypass the challenging immune reactions that often follow indirect delivery.