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Stem Cell Process Makes Red Blood, Platelets in Quantities

Blood bag (NIH)

(National Institutes of Health)

Medical and public health researchers at Boston University developed a lab process for generating from adult stem cells, unlimited quantities of red blood and platelet cells, the type of cells in donated blood. The team led by George Murphy, co-director of the university’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, published its findings online yesterday in the journal Blood (paid subscription required).

Blood banks rely on donations to maintain adequate supplies to meet routine and emergency medical needs. The National Blood Collection and Utilization Survey, a biannual study, shows in 2009 (the last year for which data are available), blood banks had more than 17 million units in store, enough to cover the 15 million transfusions in the previous year. The wide variety of blood types, however, creates occasional spot shortages, as well as the demand for large quantities during times of disaster response.

Murphy’s team, which includes colleagues from Boston Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, used induced pluripotent stem cells, adult cells which are genetically reprogrammed to resemble and display properties of embryonic stem cells, including the ability to transform into different types of cells. A cell bank at the Center for Regenerative Medicine provided the cells for the study.

The researchers exposed the stem cells to growth factors — natural substances that stimulate cell growth or differentiation — using a patented process that induced the transformation to red blood cells and platelets. The growth factors influenced aryl hydrocarbon receptors, a genetic pathway that controls an array of genes in the body. Previous research showed aryl hydrocarbon receptors interacted with environmental toxins to promote the growth of cancer cells.

In this study, Murphy and colleagues found aryl hydrocarbon receptors not only activate the growth of early-stage blood cells, but the exponential growth in volume of these cells. These early stage cells, known as hematopoietic progenitor cells, can then differentiate into red blood or platelet cells.

The research results, say the researchers, could lead to a technology for providing sufficient blood supplies for public health needs, as well as assure the safety and compatibility of blood needed for individual therapy or surgery. The technology, notes the study, would be compliant with Good Management Practice (GMP) quality assurance standards to reduce risks of contamination and false labeling.

The findings also provide more insights into the process for developing blood cells in the body. The researchers say the results could be helpful in better understanding blood-related diseases, such as malaria and sickle-cell anemia, as well as cardiovascular disease and blood clotting disorders.

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