Professor John Hunt
Scientists at the University of Liverpool are leading a £2 million project to grow blood from stem cells which is set to remove the need for blood donation in the long-term.
The team is developing highly targeted methods of isolating and purifying haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) which are the progenitors of red blood cells, as well as environments that support the transition of HSCs into red blood cells in the laboratory.
In the future, the team estimates it will take around two weeks to ‘grow’ a useable amount of blood from HSCs, although when blood production is fully scaled up to serve the NHS, production systems should be capable of running continuously, enabling constant production of red blood cells for clinical use.
The team is using stem cells from a number of sources of human adult tissue including whole blood, bone marrow, adipose (fatty) tissue, dental pulp and umbilical cord. They are also developing a novel bioreactor system which will mimic the tissue in the body where blood cells are produced in order to continuously ‘harvest’ the cells. The system will monitor their population density, stage of maturation and genotype while providing appropriate nutrition and biomechanical stimulation to encourage the cells to reproduce and ‘grow’ into red blood cells. Different blood groups will be produced by isolating different groups of HSCs.
Professor John Hunt, Head of UK Centre for Tissue Engineering at the University, said: “We’re aiming to enable the production of large quantities of red blood cells for health care centres in Europe – these will be for immediate use and also for banking in order to reduce the need to rely on blood donations. This will directly benefit patients coming into hospital, but also alleviate the constant pressures on blood supplies and the need for blood donors. Critical care facilities should be able to establish a blood cell resource based on projected requirements and current demands.”
He added: “Producing HSCs on demand will also provide the opportunity to tailor cells, providing for all blood group types, including rare blood cell groups, removing any immunogenicity or patient rejection and reaction issues. The production of specific sub types of cells can also be provided to research groups in order to develop treatments for blood disorders.
“This is ongoing research that is still at laboratory stage – we will not be able to ‘grow’ blood in the NHS for some years yet so it is absolutely vital that people continue to donate blood for the foreseeable future.”
Scientists at the University have been developing human tissue from stem cells for several years. They have succeeded in growing cartilage, skin, adipose and visceral tissues and have recently managed to grow bone from blood-derived stem cells. They are also developing materials and surgical devices to direct and control cells to survive in the body long-term.
The new project, entitled ‘REDONTAP’, is funded by the European Commission and is being conducted in collaboration with Applikon Biotechnology in the Netherlands, the Centre for Tissue and Cell Therapy in Barcelona and the University of Leipzig. It aims to develop blood production in bulk in the laboratory in three years’ time, with an effective means of scaling up production for the public healthcare sectors across Europe in five years.
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