A team of scientists from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY, has developed methods to increase the production of red blood cells from stem cells, a discovery that could dramatically boost the blood supply available for transfusions. In a recent study, researchers Eric Bouhassira, Emmanuel Oliver, and Caihong Qiu published data on a promising new method of growing red blood cells in the lab.
Using human stem cells from sources such as cord blood and circulating blood as well as embryonic stem cells, they produced a much higher yield of red blood cells than has previously been possible. "We combined different cell expansion protocols into a 'cocktail' that increased the number of cells we could produce by 10 to 100 fold," Bouhassira said.
Blood transfusions, developed more than 80 years ago, are essential component of many surgeries, trauma medicine, and blood cancer therapies, and are one of the primary treatments for people with sickle cell anemia and other blood diseases. However, the blood needed for such transfusions is obtained only through donations and can be in short supply, particularly for chronically transfused people who require rare blood groups. The methods described by the researchers can be used to produce blood with any blood groups.
"The ability of scientists to grow large quantities of red blood cells at an industrial scale could revolutionize the field of transfusion medicine," Bouhassira said. "Collecting blood through a donation-based system is serving us well but it is expensive, vulnerable to disruption, and insufficient to meet the needs of some people who need ongoing transfusions. This could be a viable long-term alternative."
More than 1010 cRBCs can now be produced using a single plate of ES cells. Combining all the known expansion methods might lead to an additional one to two orders of magnitude increase in the number of cells that can be produced from a single plate of hESCs. Therefore, production of the CD34+ cells necessary to feed bioreactors capable of producing hundreds of units of red blood cells per weeks could be done using relatively low numbers of pluripotent stem cells.
"Being able to produce red blood cells from stem cells has the potential to overcome many difficulties of the current system, including sporadic shortages," said Anthony Atala, M.D., editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "This team has made a significant contribution to scientists' quest to produce red blood cells in the lab."
Illustration: Microsoft clipart.
Stem Cell Translational Medicine News Release (08/01/12)
Abstract (Stem Cell Translational Medicine; Vol. 1, No. 8, 604-614 (08/02/12))