In the US alone, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer every three minutes. This poses a major issue for doctors, patients, and families, because blood circulates quickly throughout the patient’s entire body. In fact, it only takes about a minute for blood to circulate throughout a human since the heart pumps 83 gallons per hour. When that blood is cancerous, it can spread very quickly.
Of course, humans also need blood to survive, so any form of transplant can be dangerous and difficult. Usually, in cases of leukemia and other cancerous blood disorders, patients require a bone marrow transplant in order to clear the cancer and re-introduce enough clean blood into their system. Like most issues involving genetics, finding a match can be, literally, one in a million.
Although having familial donors increases the chances of finding a match–1 in 4 for siblings–the process is still arduous and can induce great suffering for both the cancer patient and the donor.
The reason this transplant works when a match is found is that bone marrow is filled with blood stem cells which can help create new blood cells of whichever blood components are needed within the patient’s body.
But now, scientists are close to a breakthrough in generating unlimited blood in a lab setting using less archaic methods than transplants, but by instead growing blood stem cells
This is important news because the ability to create blood stem cells means that we can also generate as much blood as we need, removing the limiting factor of finding a donor for patients with diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Beyond blood cancer, the use of lab-grown stem cells could have implications for other patients as well, including those with genetic blood disorders.
Although both teams are quite close to this feat and both inserted transcription factors into their initial cells, they each began differently.
Daley’s team started with human skin cells which they converted into iPS cells, added transcription factors, then injected into mice to develop into the cells that can create a full range of blood cells, including immune cells.
On the other hand, Rafii’s team took their initial cells from mice blood cells, added the transcription factors, then let them grow and multiply in a petri dish.
When these stem cells were introduced into Rafii’s mice that had been “genetically modified to lack an immune system”, the cells acted as intended and generated necessary blood cells.
Similarly, Daley’s mice began to generate human blood cells within their bone marrow.
A warning exists, however. Although lab-generated blood may augment blood supplies for transfusions and aid those people who have cancers and genetic blood disorders, there is potential for the modified blood itself to become cancerous in timeframes longer than the lifespans of mice.
Can you think of any other uses for lab grown blood? Let us know in the comments below!