Stem cell approach could bolster blood supplies

A story out of Stanford today highlights their hospital’s effort to spare the nation’s limited blood supply. At the same time, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine report that they may have developed a stem cell approach to making up for some of the shortfall.

According to a press release from Stanford, blood supplies are on the decline. Transfusions also carry a risk of passing on infection. Combine that with the high cost of transfusion and four years ago Stanford Hospital made a concerted effort to reduce blood transfusions. They report in the May 25 Lancet that the result is a 24 percent decrease in blood use.

But not doing a transfusion isn’t always a possibility. That’s why many teams of scientists worldwide have been working to mature stem cells into red blood cells and platelets (a critical component of blood transfusions). The group generated embryonic-like iPS cells then matured those into red blood cells and platelets. They published their results in the May 29 issue of Blood.

A press release from Boston University quotes George J. Murphy, who led the study:

“This finding has enabled us to overcome a major hurdle in terms of being able to produce enough of these cells to have a potential therapeutic impact both in the lab and, down the line, in patients.”

If the work can be repeated by other labs, and can be scaled up to produce the large numbers of cells needed for transfusions, it could spare the nation’s dwindling blood supplies.

A.A.

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