The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), in conjunction with various other medical research institutions in the United Kingdom and Ireland, have created artificial blood in the form of type O negative, otherwise known as the “universal donor,” a rare blood type that all other blood types can receive without the potential of severe, life-threatening immunological reactions occurring. The first transfusion with the new artificial blood is expected to occur late 2016.
Artificial blood, namely red blood cells, are produced by dedifferentiating fibroblasts—cells that generate connective tissue in the body, such as blood, bone, and cartilage—from an adult donor and reprogramming them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The iPSCs are then cultured for a month in a bone marrow-like environment, where mature red blood cells with their characteristic lack of nuclei are extracted.
Currently, non-blood volume expanders are available as an alternative to blood transfusions, which serves as a viable option for patients who have certain religious beliefs, such as Jehovah witnesses, who cannot accept animal products. Dextran, hetastarch, pentastarch, and normal saline or Lactated Ringer’s solution can be used to maintain blood volume and pressure. But they do not increase the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity, which is the sole responsibility of red blood cells—namely hemoglobin, a metalloprotein that contains iron.
Even though 107 million blood donations are collected annually, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), blood is still in demand, particularly in developing nations. And despite of strict regulations regarding blood collection, storage, and release of its use, the risk of incompatibility reactions and transmitting diseases to recipients still exist.
With artificial blood, the constant need for blood donations is addressed, along with not worrying about infecting a patient with contaminated blood or other potential adverse reactions. Artificial blood is also a culturally sensitive solution to blood loss.