Artificial blood edges closer to reality, spurred by pandemic-driven shortage

Credit: Ann Cutting/Getty Images

While scientists have developed backups for most parts of our bodies—from prosthetic limbs to titanium teeth implants—the production of artificial blood has eluded them. Now, helped by advances in stem-cell research and interest from investors, scientists are closer than ever to coming up with a blood substitute.

Blood made in a lab could add to the supply from human donors, which can drop dangerously low during natural disasters or pandemics, as the U.S. saw in March. It would also provide a lifesaving remedy for those with blood disorders that prevent them from accepting donations. And it could be quality-controlled for viruses and pathogens in a way that researchers say human samples can’t be.

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Low-income countries have less than one-fifth the number of donors of high-income countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Some religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, don’t accept transfusions of donated blood as part of their faith. A representative says blood substitutes may be helpful.

Researchers and companies believe that blood made from induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells, could solve some of these problems by allowing them to manufacture pathogen-free blood that would be accepted by nearly all patients.

Dr. [Koji] Eto’s study, which began in March 2019 and ends in early 2021, is one of a number slated to take place over the next year.

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