There is an incredible demand for human blood. 2,000 units of blood are needed every day in hospitals in Canada alone. Despite this, only 3.6 per cent of Canadians donate blood annually. The demand for blood is obvious. However, the use of synthetic blood may change all of this.
A team of researchers at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania has had surprisingly encouraging results from the first trials of using blood manufactured in a laboratory. The team, led by professor Radu Silaghi-Dumitrescu, has been completing research to create the artificial blood for over six years.
The blood is made of expected ingredients like water, salt, and albumin (a globular protein), but it also contains protein from an unlikely source: the protein hemerythrin, which is extracted from marine worms. This protein helps make the artificial blood stress-resistant.
The first tests were performed on mice. The mice treated with the synthetic blood showed signs of ‘indifference’—a positive sign. The mice showed no reaction to the artificial blood, meaning that no display signs of inflammation or disease occurred.
Previous attempts to create artificial blood have failed in the past, and this is due to researchers being unable to find the exact protein to keep the synthetic substance immune to stress factors. So far, hemerythrin has shown promise, as the tests on the mice did not generate toxicity as all other types of protein used thus far have produced.
Dumitrescu said that testing on mice will continue until it is proven that there are absolutely no toxic effects whatsoever before any attempt to use the synthetic blood in human subjects. It is expected that testing on mice will continue for at most two years before humans will be tested. Human trials “represent an enormous risk” according to Dumitrescu, and all safety concerns must be addressed beforehand. In the meantime, the team behind this development hopes to publish its findings in medical journals and pursue a patent.
Earlier this year, a team of researchers based at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh used stem cells to manufacture blood on an industrial scale, and were even granted a license to test the blood on humans. Although this research could help overcome the recurring problem of shortages from donations, manufacturing the blood from stem cells thus far has been an expensive process, with a pint having a manufacturing cost of roughly $850.
If all goes according to plan, the synthetic blood made by the Romanian scientists could help solve the blood shortage crisis, with little cost associated.