British researchers may have solved the problem of mass-production of red blood cells, it was announced today.
A 'robust and reproducible' technique developed in Bristol allows the reproduction of immortalised cell lines from adult stem cells, NHS Blood and Transplant said.
It said the immature red cells that result can be cultured indefinitely before they are allowed to develop into mature red blood cells, according to the research, published in Nature Communications.
Researcher Dr Jan Frayne, from the University of Bristol, said: '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.'
Professor Dave Anstey, from NHS Blood and Transplant, said: '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. The intention is not to replace blood donation but to provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups.'
Source: Nature Communications 14 March 2017
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