13 january 2013
IIT-Madras scientists have blood on their hands– and nobody is complaining. A team of scientists from the department of engineering design has been successful in creating enough red blood cells from stem cells to be used as ‘artificial blood’ in people who need transfusion.
Having proved their oxygen–carrying capacity, the RBCs will now go into ‘mass production’ before starting human trials in three years, scientists said. The IIT team recently got a funding approval from the Union ministry of science and technology to produce artificial blood on an industrial scale. This blood would be tested on animals before human trials. If the trials prove successful, it will help hospitals overcome shortage of blood and save many accident victims. "We will be able to provide any amount of safe and disease-free blood at half the cost of blood sold now," said the study’s principal investigator, Dr Soma Guhathakurta, a visiting professor at the department of engineering design IIT-M.
In the past few months, Dr Soma and her team have made red blood cells – the carrier of hemoglobin that delivers oxygen – on a Petri dish. They cultured adult stem cells derived from cord blood in the presence of some "easily nutritional supplements" for 17 days.
The stem cells, which are undifferentiated cells with the potential to turn into any cell, developed into red blood cells. The department of biotechnology (DBT) has approved a proposal from the scientists to develop a bio-reactor for large-scale production of artificial blood. The reactor will be built with support of IIT’s biotechnology department.
The IIT scientists say they did not use any expensive enzyme or growth factors. "Despite this, the yield was a billion times high," said Venkatesh Balasubramanian, associate professor in the department of engineering design.
The World Health Organisation says a country needs a minimum stock of blood equal to 1% of its population. This means India needs 12 million units of blood, but collects only nine million units annually, though demand has gone up drastically.
The cost of blood has gone up in the last few years as blood has to be subjected to several tests to ensure it is disease-free, says Dr K Selvaraju, former state blood transfusion officer. This could be avoided in artificial blood.