Prosthetics, in place of damaged limbs, artificial teeth or dental implants to replace spoilt teeth, fertilization of sperm and egg, not in the womb, but out in a test tube for a suitable ambience are all very common now. But can medical sciences go so far as to even create blood, the life supply of living beings, outside the body? Yes, ‘synthetic blood’ is the answer to short supply of blood, especially of the rare blood group types and the ones with rare diseases.
Making this possible, is the magical medical boon. The stem cells, they seem to have a solution to a lot of medical problems as these cells have the unique capability to transform, adapt and multiply itself accordingly in whichever ambience it is planted. This property of stem cells is now being tapped and is said to have a vast ability to solve many critical blood disorders in future, but using it to create a huge supply of blood is in the clinical trial phase. If this passes successfully, it could be a great boon to meet the short supply of blood.
Each stem cell can make only about 50,000 red blood cells before it dies off. This might look like huge, but to put things in perspective, a typical bag of blood used in hospitals contains around 1 trillion red blood cells. That explains the urgent need for artificially produced blood. Researchers in Bristol particularly have invented a new approach to effectively trapping the adult stem cells in an early stage of development, so that they can divide and create red blood cells forever, without dying. So they become the ‘immortal cells’.
Medical science and its fast-paced stride are now making it possible to even see powdered synthetic blood, so that the process of storage becomes hassle free and logistical transportation of the blood becomes convenient. In Washington University, a researcher has created an artificial red blood cell that picks up oxygen in the lungs and transports it throughout the body. These cells are made of purified human hemoglobin, and they are then coated with a special synthetic polymer. This coating is necessary and has been made in a way so that it responds to changes in blood pH, so the cells are tuned to act accordingly. The best advantage of this product is that it can be freeze-dried as a powder, which definitely makes the logistic part of carrying blood easier.
Broadly speaking synthetic blood aims at providing an alternative to blood transfusion. The advantages of synthetic blood are that it will be less prone to causing infections, as it is cultured and processed in the lab. So far, there is no well accepted oxygen carrying blood substitutes, so these clinical trials are aimed at providing a revolutionary medical breakthrough. The main categories of ‘oxygen-carrying’ blood substitutes being pursued are hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers and perfluorocarbon- based oxygen carriers. And if this becomes a success, then the next step should be its mass scale production.