Artificial blood is a substitute for red blood cells. For decades, scientists have been trying to develop artificial blood from various sources and through different methods to address the shortage of blood for transfusions. Inadequate number of blood donors and the criticality of blood-type rejection have encouraged researchers to develop artificial blood, thus reducing the dependency on blood donors.
Transfusion of red blood cells (RBCs) is a standard and indispensable therapy for anemic conditions. Blood transfusion process has progressed through many developments including the development of acid-citrate-dextrose blood preservation solution, and cloning of ABO gene. However, blood transfusion has always been challenged with respect to the risk of infections. Recombinant erythropoietin stimulating agent therapy has been the prominent therapy in cases like chronic kidney disease, and chronic anemic conditions. Yet in thrombotic and neoplastic complications, blood transfusion is the only option. Hence, RBC production from hematopoietic stem cells has been the focus of regenerative therapy. Billions of dollars have been spent on developing this technique. However, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved artificial blood for humans yet.
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Developments in Artificial Blood Technique
Scientists have been trying to develop artificial blood from diverse molecules ranging from perfluorocarbons to hemoglobin. Later, with the advent of research in stem cells, researchers began to develop RBCs from stem cells of cord blood. The enrollment for the first clinical trials of stem-cell based red blood cells began in 2009. This study used stem cells from cord blood and adult bone marrow. The study was conducted by Douay and his colleagues at the Hematological Laboratory at the University of Paris VI.
A similar research conducted by scientists at the University of Bristol and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) using stem cells from adult and umbilical cord blood has shown successful results from initial studies. The study will now be entering the clinical trials with 20 subjects in 2017. The intention of this is not replacing blood donation but providing special treatment for specific patient groups.
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 50,000 stem cell transplantations performed annually worldwide. Nearly 2,000 cord blood hematopoietic stem cell transplants are performed annually worldwide. Use of stem cells from cord blood is increasing as it does not require perfect human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue matching, may be used allogenically and has less incidence of graft v/s host disease. According to the New York Blood Center (NYBC), which is the largest cord blood bank globally in terms of units stored, more than one half of all stem cell transplants in children, in the U.S., use cord blood. In Japan, on the other hand, similar is the statistic in the adult group.
As the trial begins in 2017, the production is expected to begin in next 8 to 10 years.
Cord blood stem cell transplantation is a successful therapy now in about 70 diseases. Developing artificial blood can be of great aid to meet the demand-supply gap in blood transfusion. Known is the fact that finding compatible donors for sickle cell anemia and thalassemia patients is very difficult. Availability of artificial blood could be the most viable solution to address the unmet needs in these patients. Continued investment in research and development is crucial for getting this technology in production and help saving and improving millions of lives.
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