Most of us are probably familiar with Red Cross Blood Drives. In fact, you probably know someone who, at some point in their life, needed a blood transfusion. When you look at the statistics for the United States, the numbers are really rather staggering:
- Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.
- More than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day.
- A total of 30 million blood components are transfused each year.
And keep in mind, these are just the numbers for the U.S. And for many individuals in need of medical attention, the tireless effort of Red Cross workers is literally the difference between life and death. However, it now seems that the Red Cross workers might be able to get a much needed break. Recently, researchers in the UK announced that they developed a technique to manufacture universal type-O blood from stem cells. This is notable, as type-O blood is a universal blood type that can be used in all transfusions. This marks the first time that scientists have been able to produce blood that meets the appropriate quality and safety standards necessary in order to be used in a transfusion.
In short, this technique makes is possible to obtain a limitless supply of manufactured type-O blood that will be free of disease and compatible with all patients.
Marc Turner, the principal researcher, devised the technique as follows: "Red blood cells are cultured from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are cells that have been taken from humans and ‘rewound’ into stem cells. Biochemical conditions similar to those in the human body are then recreated to induce the iPS cells to mature into red blood cells – of the rare universal blood type O," reports the telegraph.
Ultimately, this breakthrough could put an end to blood shortages, particularly during extended emergency situations. However, before this can happen, we need to test the blood and ensure that it meets all safety standards. At present time, it seems that the trials will conclude in late 2016 or early 2017. At which point, if all goes well, mass manufacturing can begin.
However, Dr. Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust, states: “One should not underestimate the challenge of translating the science into routine procedures for the clinic. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the challenge Professor Turner and colleagues have set out to address, which is to replace the human blood donor as the source of supply for life-saving transfusions."
So don't expect any blood factories to be springing up tomorrow. However, they can be seen on the horizon.