Scientists have shown for the first time that cultured red blood cells can be grown in the lab from adult stem cells and injected successfully into a human. While embryonic stem cells produce only unsuitable, immature cells, with rejection and uncontrolled tumor growth remaining a concern as well, by contrast adult stem cells can efficiently produce healthy, safe cells for transfusion.
French scientists took hematopoietic stem cells (HSC’s; the adult stem cells that form all blood cells) from a human donor and from those cells, generated billions of “cultured red blood cells” (cRBC’s) in the laboratory. They first tested the function of the cells by injection into mice, showing that the lab-generated cells were able to mature fully.
Then they took adult stem cells from a human volunteer donor, made more cells in the lab, and injected ten billion cells back into the human donor. The cells survived and functioned comparable to normal red blood cells.
Dr. Luc Douay, senior study author, noted:
“Although previous research has shown that HSCs can be developed into fully matured red blood cells, this is the first study that has proven that they are capable of survival in the human body, a major breakthrough for the transplant community. The results from our study establish the feasibility of the concept of transfusing cRBCs and show promise that an unlimited blood reserve is within reach. Although the full-scale production of these cells will require additional technological advances in cell engineering, we believe cRBCs could prove to be a valid alternative to classic transfusion products that will not only provide an adequate supply of blood, but reduce the risk of life-threatening complications and infections that can accompany traditional transfusion.”
The study was published online in the journal Blood.