News outlets are reporting that researchers from Advanced Cell Technology, Inc have been able to differentiate human embryonic stem cells into red blood cells. This could be a major breakthrough in mankind's quest to find a safe, unlimited source of blood that can be used for blood transfusions and other medical needs.
Currently the world's blood supply is obtained from human donors in a system that is short on supply and fraught with complications related to sterilization, contamination, disease, storage life (typically less than 42 days), and collection logistics.
First off, one can't help but be a little skeptical here because of the financial condition of Advanced Cell Technology, which reportedly is on the brink of bankruptcy. Their website appears not to have been updated in several months, perhaps symbolizing the malaise that is happening over there.
Let us hope that this research truly is legit, however, because it would be a fantastic breakthrough for mankind. Other researchers have been able to derive red blood cells in the past from sources such as cord blood and bone marrow, but these sources are still donor limited. They are also rarely of type O(-) which is the universal blood type that virtually every person can accept. Embryonic stem cells can be multiplied infinitely, allowing for the generation of unlimited blood supply and theoretically can be developed into type O(-).
This breakthrough is still nowhere near to producing a clinical trial and has many technical hurdles to overcome, so don't expect anything to come of it for many years. Still, it is exciting to see a breakthrough that might be taking us that much closer to an improved blood supply. Now, if someone could just make us a respirocyte then we would really be in business!
The research paper was published in the journal Blood.