First Artificial Red Blood Cells Made

by Rachel Baker on April 18, 2014

It seems like we’ve had a great many breakthroughs in medicine over the last year or so, but this may well be one of the coolest when it comes to emergency surgery needs.

Artificial red blood cells good enough to be transfused into patients have been developed for the first time. Scaled up to industrial levels, the breakthrough could lead to factories producing virtually limitless supplies of cheap blood – technically called erythrocytes – for use in the world’s most common life-saving medical procedure.

“We have made red blood cells that are fit to go in a person’s body,” said Marc Turner, medical director at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, who is leading the £5m ($8.5m) project funded by the Wellcome Trust. “Before now, we haven’t really had that.”

The announcement is the latest in the relatively new field of regenerative medicine, which has already seen the development of artificial skin, liver, bone, cartilage and blood vessels, though not always in useful quantities.

The new source of supply could consist entirely of Type O negative blood, which can be transfused into any patient. This is currently quite rare, as only 7 per cent of donors have Type O negative.

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