Researchers have created a method that allows them to manufacture red blood cells in a more efficient way.
In a news release on Friday, the University of Bristol said that the team, from the university and NHS Blood and Transplant, had developed a "robust and reproducible technique" which enabled them to generate "immortalized erythroid cell lines from adult stem cells."
The implications of this appear to be significant. The university said that the new technique meant that premature red cells could be "cultured indefinitely." This allowed larger scale production before the cells were "differentiated into mature red blood cells."
"Previous approaches to producing red blood cells have relied on various sources of stem cells which can only presently produce very limited quantities," Jan Frayne, from the University of Bristol's School of Biochemistry, said in a statement on Friday.
"By taking an alternative approach we have generated the first human immortalized adult erythroid line… and in doing so, have demonstrated a feasible way to sustainably manufacture red cells for clinical use from in vitro culture," Frayne added.
Frayne went on to state that there was a global need for an alternative red cell product, and that cultured red blood cells possessed advantages over donor blood, "such as reduced risk of infectious disease transmission."
Dave Anstee, director at the NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Unit in Red Cell Products, said that scientists had been working for years on finding a way to manufacture red blood cells to offer an "alternative to donated blood to treat patients." The unit is a collaboration between the University of Bristol and NHS Blood and Transplant.
"The first therapeutic use of a cultured red cell product is likely to be for patients with rare blood groups because suitable conventional red blood cell donations can be difficult to source," Anstee added, before going on to state that the intention was not to replace blood donation but rather "provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups."
The team's results were published in the journal Nature Communications.