British scientists to create synthetic blood
2009 03 24

By Steve Connor | www.independant.co.uk




A major research project is to be announced this week that will culminate in three years with the first transfusions into human volunteers of "synthetic" blood made from the stem cells of spare IVF embryos. It could help to save the lives of anyone from victims of traffic accidents to soldiers on a battlefield by revolutionising the vital blood transfusion services, which have to rely on a network of human donors to provide a constant supply of fresh blood.

The multimillion-pound deal involving NHS Blood and Transplant, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and the Wellcome Trust, the world's biggest medical research charity, means Britain will take centre stage in the global race to develop blood made from embryonic stem cells. The researchers will test human embryos left over from IVF treatment to find those that are genetically programmed to develop into the "O-negative" blood group, which is the universal donor group whose blood can be transfused into anyone without fear of tissue rejection.

This blood group is relatively rare, applicable to about 7 per cent of the population, but it could be produced in unlimited quantities from embryonic stem cells because of their ability to multiply indefinitely in the laboratory.

The aim is to stimulate embryonic stem cells to develop into mature, oxygen-carrying red blood cells for emergency transfusions. Such blood would have the benefit of not being at risk of being infected with viruses such as HIV and hepatitis, or the human form of "mad cow" disease. The military in particular needs a constant supply of fresh, universal donor blood for battlefield situations when normal supplies from donors can quickly run out.

But developing blood made from the cells of spare IVF embryos will raise difficult ethical issues for people not happy with the idea of destroying embryos to create stem cells. It also raises the intriguing philosophical question of whether the synthetic blood will have come from someone who never existed. In theory, just one embryo could meet the nation's needs.

The Wellcome Trust is believed to have promised £3m towards the cost of the project, with further funding coming from the blood transfusion services of Scotland, and England and Wales. The Irish government is also understood to be involved. A spokesman for the Wellcome Trust said complicated legal issues were still being ironed out between all the parties involved but that an announcement is likely to be made in the coming week.

The project will be led by Professor Marc Turner, of Edinburgh University, the director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. Professor Turner has been involved in studies investigating how to ensure donated blood is free of the infectious agent behind variant CJD, the human form of "mad cow" disease. Several vCJD patients are thought to have contracted the disease by blood transfusions.

Professor Turner was unavailable for comment but a spokeswoman for the National Blood Service for England and North Wales confirmed that negotiations on the joint research project were at an advanced stage and that legal, rather than scientific, issues were holding up the announcement.

The multi-centre collaboration is also understood to involve scientists at the Medical Research Council's Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and Roslin Cells, a spin-off company that has emerged out of the Roslin Institute, where Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996.

Scientists in other countries, notably Sweden, France and Australia, are also known to be working on the development of synthetic blood from embryonic stem cells. And last year, a team from a US biotechnology company, Advanced Cell Technology, announced that it has been able to produce billions of functioning red blood cells from embryonic stem cells. But the US work had been held up because of funding problems dating back to the ban on embryonic stem cell work under the Bush administration. President Barack Obama has since reversed that policy.

In Britain, the project was held up because of the difficulty of finding funding for "translational" research that attempts to take scientific studies in the laboratory into the earliest stages of commercial development. This problem has now been overcome.



Related Articles
A scientific dream for more than half a century
Doubt over stem cell blood theory


Latest News from our Front Page

NATO Exercise in Ukraine Coincided with MH-17 Shoot-down
2014 07 24
Rapid Trident was omitted from the flurry of coverage on the shoot-down MH-17. From the U.S. Army in Europe website: Rapid Trident supports interoperability among Ukraine, the United States, NATO and Partnership for Peace member nations. The exercise helps prepare participants to operate successfully in a joint, multinational, integrated environment with host-nation support from civil and governmental agencies. ...
Warning of ’imminent’ terror attack in Norway
2014 07 24
Norwegians were warned Thursday of the concrete possibility of a terror attack occurring in that country at the hands of people with connections to an extremist group in Syria. A press conference was called in Oslo, Norway on Thursday where an announcement was made of a "possible concrete threat" to national security in that country from terrorists related to an extremist ...
Judge says government can access everything in a Gmail account
2014 07 24
All your emails are belong to us. At least that’s what the latest court order from a judge in New York says. The warrant, granted on June 11, states that the government can access all the content and files contained in a Gmail account. Yes, this is a significant blow to privacy. The subject of this specific search relates to a money laundering ...
Scotland Yard Spied on Grieving Families: secret surveillance after police victim shot seven times in head ’by mistake’
2014 07 24
More terror from the ’anti-terror’ brigade. Undercover police gathered evidence on 18 grieving families By Rob Evans and Vikram Dodd | The Guardian Undercover police officers secretly gathered intelligence over two decades on 18 families fighting to get justice from the police, it was revealed on Thursday. The intelligence covering high-profile campaigns was collected between the mid-1980s and 2005, and affected grieving families ...
Air Algerie AH5017 with 116 onboard goes missing for hours, found crashed in Mali
2014 07 24
An Air Algerie flight carrying 110 passengers and six crew members has reportedly crashed in Mali after having disappeared from radar early on Thursday morning between Burkina Faso and Algeria. A French Ministry of Defense official told Fox News that the two French fighter jets located the wreckage of the plane, which had crashed in Mali. An airport official additionally confirmed ...
More News »