Human Exceptionalism

Embryonic Stem Cell Success: Morphed into Blood

An interesting ESCR success was published in the journal Blood. ES cells were morphed into blood, offering the potential of greatly easing blood shortages and making transfusions safer for patients. From the story:

In the new study, researchers were able to make as many as 100 billion red blood cells–enough to fill two or three collection tubes–from a single plate of embryonic stem cells.

After allowing the stem cells to begin the earliest stages of embryonic development, the researchers prompted some of them to grow into red blood cells by exposing them to a variety of proteins. Up to 65% of the resulting cells matured to the point at which they shed their nucleus, which allows them to take on the distinctive doughnut shape of circulating red blood cells, said Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology Inc. and the study’s senior author.

The team, which also included researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., produced blood of types A-positive, A-negative, B-positive, B-negative and O-positive. The method was 100 times more efficient than previous efforts, said Eric Bouhassira, a professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. But most of the cells had embryonic or fetal versions of globin, the compound in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Only a relative few appeared to contain the adult globin that would be needed by patients, he said.

“Whether they would be good enough for transfusion is very unclear,” said Bouhassira, who wasn’t involved in the study. Lanza said the research team was conducting more experiments to see whether the stem cells would produce more adult globin if given more time to mature in the lab.

Even with substantial improvements, the method faces another big hurdle. Roger Dodd, director of the American Red Cross’ Holland Laboratory in Rockville, Md., said that producing blood in the lab could cost thousands of dollars per unit–far too expensive to replace the 14 million pints of red blood cells that are transfused every year. “It’s a rather ambitious goal,” Dodd said.

A few points:

This is from Advanced Cell Technology, along with others. With ACT, it is always wise to trust but verify, since the hype is often a bigger deal than the actual experiment. However, Blood is certainly a reputable journal.

Second, while the story says that adult stem cells are not as efficient in this process, it is interesting to note that the change to blood cells came from embryonic stem cells that were not then truly stem cells but had begun differentiation.

Third, I wonder if IPSCs would work as well.

Fourth, the cost factor could easily prevent this from ever going into clinical application even if the existing kinks are solved.

Fifth: I will bet the cells used were Bush approved, since ACT is bankrupt and thus, these researchers probably received an NIH grant.

Finally, if ESCR/blood ever became widely acceptable, would it have to be labeled so that those with ethical objections could refuse it?

UPDATE: Re Bush-approved lines, I checked with my sources. One of the ESC lines was indeed Bush-approved . Another line was one that Harvard had established privately, and two from lines created at ACT.