Scientists say they have made a significant leap towards mass-producing red blood cells suitable for donation.
Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood, and every year, 4.5 million Americans would die without life-saving blood transfusions.
Not nearly enough blood is being donated to meet the growing demand, leading to shortages that prevent lives from being saved.
Now, a team at the University of Bristol and NHS Blood and Transplant have developed a method to produce an unlimited supply of red blood cells.
“These premature red cells can be cultured indefinitely, allowing larger-scale production, before being differentiated into mature red blood cells,” reads a press release on the findings, which were published earlier this month in Nature Communications.
However, the technique needs to be tested in clinical trials, and large-scale manufacturing of the cells is still years away. The biggest challenge is to find a way to drive down the cost of production, which is currently much more expensive than traditional blood donations.
Once that technology is in place, this new method of producing blood could allow hospitals to keep supplies of rare blood on hand to use as needed, a development with the potential to save many lives.
It can be incredibly difficult for hospitals to find a match for people with extremely rare blood types, particularly in emergency situations when donations are urgently needed.
“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 provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups,” said Dave Anstee, director at the NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Unit.