posted on Mar, 23 2009 @ 11:30 AM
Human embryos will be used to make an unlimited supply for infection-free transfusions
Scientists in Britain plan to become the first in the world to produce unlimited amounts of synthetic human blood from embryonic stem cells for
emergency infection-free transfusions.
A major research project is to be announced this week that will culminate in three years with the first transfusions into human volunteers of
"synthetic" blood made from the stem cells of spare IVF embryos. It could help to save the lives of anyone from victims of traffic accidents to
soldiers on a battlefield by revolutionising the vital blood transfusion services, which have to rely on a network of human donors to provide a
constant supply of fresh blood.
The aim is to stimulate embryonic stem cells to develop into mature, oxygen-carrying red blood cells for emergency transfusions. Such blood would have
the benefit of not being at risk of being infected with viruses such as HIV and hepatitis, or the human form of "mad cow" disease. The military in
particular needs a constant supply of fresh, universal donor blood for battlefield situations when normal supplies from donors can quickly run out.
But developing blood made from the cells of spare IVF embryos will raise difficult ethical issues for people not happy with the idea of destroying
embryos to create stem cells. It also raises the intriguing philosophical question of whether the synthetic blood will have come from someone who
never existed. In theory, just one embryo could meet the nation's needs.
Scientists in other countries, notably Sweden, France and Australia, are also known to be working on the development of synthetic blood from embryonic
And last year, a team from a US biotechnology company, Advanced Cell Technology, announced that it has been able to produce billions of functioning
red blood cells from embryonic stem cells. But the US work had been held up because of funding problems dating back to the ban on embryonic stem cell
work under the Bush administration. President Barack Obama has since reversed that policy.