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Stem cell breakthrough may solve blood shortage

U.S.-based researchers have succeeded in developing blood platelets on a large scale using human embryonic stem cells, paving the way for the mass production of artificial blood.

The research conducted by U.S. biotechnology firm Advanced Cell Technology and Korea’s Cha Medical Group’s U.S. unit reported the research in life sciences journal “Cell Research.“

The development, which has been successfully tested in mice, is expected to help solve the shortage of blood in the future.

Harvard Medical School, the University of Illinois, Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine International and the U.S. branch of CHA Bio & Diostech participated in the project.

The global medical industry has long been short of blood ― lacking 45,000-90,000 liters annually, according to the research.

Whereas whole blood transfusions were more common in the past, a type transfusing red blood cells and platelets separately has become more common these days for it is less likely to be rejected by the body.

Platelets are cell fragments in the blood that help form clots in the human body. They are considered the most important parts for transfusions along with red blood cells.

Patients going through chemotherapy, radiation treatments and organ transplants particularly need platelet transfusions as such procedures lower their numbers of platelets.

Yet a tricky thing about platelets is that hospitals depend mostly on blood donations for their supply and, once they are in hand, they only have about a week of shelf life.

Researchers thus been focusing on not only developing an alternative to them artificially but also seeking ways to preserve them for a longer period of time.

The latest research said pluripotent stem cells ― which are capable of differentiating into any other type of cell in the body ― might one day offer a way to generate “an unlimited supply of platelets for transfusion” in the laboratory.

The researchers also reported that the lab-grown platelets were “indistinguishable” from normal blood platelets, being similar in shape and size, and that they behaved like the real thing as well.

They helped to form clots in lab dishes and in mice who had sustained injuries to blood vessels. The embryonic stem cell-derived platelets also helped retract clots, the team wrote, another key part of platelets’ role in healing wounds.

By Koh Young-aah (
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Korea Herald daum