Groundbreaking stem cell research out of the University of Edinburgh suggests that scientists have discovered a way to grow artificial blood in a laboratory.
No. Not fake blood. Halloween is over. I’m talking about a manufactured substitute for real human blood.
And believe it or not, this artificial blood is even more useful than the stuff already coursing through your veins.
Sounds implausible, right? I can assure you, it isn’t. Let me explain…
In This Case, Science Trumps Nature
Five million people require a transfusion each year in the United States alone, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. And donor blood isn’t exactly plentiful, which makes this particular discovery so vital.
Scientists are using stem cells taken from human bone marrow to grow a greater supply of red blood cells, which carry oxygen through your body.
Red blood cells are commonly used for transfusions in place of whole blood.
After years of refining the process, Edinburgh’s scientists believe that their blood substitute is superior to any donor blood in four critical ways:
#1. It’s Universally Accepted. Researchers say they can use this method to produce type O-negative blood, which is considered the universal donor type because it’s used to treat 98% of the population. But it’s rare, since only 7% of the population is born with it.
#2. It’s Disease-Free. Although donor blood is tested before being given to patients, there’s always the risk that something could slip through and complicate the process.
Dr. Phillip Chan, CEO of blood purification company, CytoSorbents (OTC: CTSO), says, “The incidence of adverse events in blood transfusion is estimated at 5% to 10%.” Edinburgh’s artificial blood would eliminate such a risk.
#3. It’s Abundant. Without the need for donors, artificial blood can be readily available. Meaning that there’s no need to stockpile it at blood banks. It’s a good thing, too, because past studies suggest that the longer blood sits around, the more likely it is to cause complications during transfusion.
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In fact, a trial conducted in 2008 showed that patients who received blood shelved for at least 29 days “were three times as likely to have suffered infections of the bloodstream, respiratory system, heart valves and other organs,” according to NPR.
Plus, a Cleveland Clinic study published the same year indicated that heart surgery patients who were given two-week old blood were more likely to die during recovery.
#4. It’s Mobile. Whipping up red blood cells on demand means you can set up makeshift blood banks wherever they’re needed most.
As Professor Chris Cooper, of the University of Essex, says, with this breakthrough, “blood can be used everywhere. Clearly there are situations where a country may not have a blood bank or where a person is [far] away from a blood bank, for example in Afghanistan or in the middle of the United States.”
Groundbreaking stuff, for sure. But if you end up with the misfortune of needing a blood transfusion in the next few years, you’ll still have to rely on the kindness of donors.
The head of the study, Professor Marc Turner, estimates that they could begin conducting human trials in two to three years. He gives it a decade before you’ll see it as a standard replacement to donor blood.
Turner predicts that in 20 years, they could be pumping out two million pints of blood every year using this method.
Bottom line, this process won’t immediately eliminate the need for donor blood altogether. And we’re not recommending you take any investment action just yet.
But given its inherent benefits over traditional blood, it’s certain to see strong demand once it moves beyond the lab. We’ll report back should an investment angle develop ahead of the trials.