Luc Douay of Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris has successfully completed the world’s first successful human blood transfusion using lab-grown blood, according to a study published in Blood. The blood was derived from hematopoietic stem cells extracted from the volunteer’s bone marrow, which were cultured with growth factors that encouraged differentiation into red blood cells. The researchers then labeled the blood cells and injected 10 billion of them, or 2 milliliters of blood, into the person’s body.
Tracing the labeled cells in circulation, the rsearchers found that 94 to 100 percent of the cultured cells remained in circulation after 5 days, and 41 to 63 percent remained after 26 days, representing a normal survival rate for blood cells. The cells also appeared to function normally, carrying oxygen through the bloodstream just like natural blood cells.
"This is a huge step forward," Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology, told New Scientist. "He showed that these cells do not have two tails or three horns and survive normally in the body," added Anna Rita Migliaccio of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
The results suggest a way to counter the world’s ever-short blood supply. "The results show promise that an unlimited blood reserve is within reach," Douay told New Scientist. But obstacles remain. A patient really in need of a blood transfusion would need much more blood than was generated in this study—about 200 times more. One option may be to use embryonic stem cells, Lanza suggested. Alternatively, other groups are working on artificial blood substitutes, which may be able to be mass produced and wouldn’t require refrigeration, making them ideal for natural disaster relief efforts.