U grows red blood cells

Researchers do not yet know what practical applications the research could have.

Hayley Odom

University researchers are growing red blood cells from one of 19 federally funded functioning lines for embryonic stem cell research.

Although researchers do not yet know how their findings could be used, it could eventually lead to a new option for stocking the blood supply, said lead researcher and professor of medicine Dan Kaufman.

“One of the possible implications of this is to create an alternative source of blood cells and platelets,” Kaufman said. “The idea is that we can create these from embryonic stem cells to avoid shortages and (maintain) a safe blood supply.”

One of the benefits of using blood derived from embryonic stem cells is uncontaminated blood, he said.

“We wouldn’t have to worry about AIDS, West Nile or other contaminants in the blood supply,” he said.

The research, which was published last month, is in its beginning phase. It was the first publication on embryonic stem cell research from the University, Kaufman said.

Clinical trials involving the blood grown from the embryonic stem cells could be more than five years away, Kaufman said.

Whether the research turns out to be a successful contributor to the blood supply remains to be seen, he said.

David Mair, St. Paul American Red Cross Blood Services medical director, said the research seems like a significant breakthrough in understanding how blood cells are created.

“But it’s still far from being something that’s done in a lab to being a proven therapy for patients,” he said. “It can take years to develop that.”

He said other situations could still affect the way blood is retrieved and kept in supply. He said a car crash victim who must have a blood transfusion would need the blood immediately.

“Stem cells may not be the way to go because they may not be able to replicate fast enough,” Mair said.

Although the research deals directly with cells, he said plasma, which is a clotting factor in blood, is still required to treat some individuals.

The Red Cross is also participating in stem cell research on blood stem cells, he said.

Steven Miles, professor of medicine and Center for Bioethics faculty member, said it is not surprising that blood cell replication is one of the first places to see advancements in embryonic stem cell research.

But he said that to bring such research to a point where it has a practical application, researchers must have more options. For example, he said, the government would have to make more embryonic stem cell lines available for research.

“These lines aren’t going to survive infinitely long,” he said. “They’re limited in age and genetic diversity.”