Funding boost for synthetic blood research

Published: 17 March 2011

Work by researchers from the University of Glasgow who are developing synthetic human blood has been given a huge funding boost .

Work by researchers from the University of Glasgow who are developing  synthetic human blood  has been given a huge funding boost.

The team, led by Dr Joanne Mountford, hope to use stem cells to produce unlimited supplies of human blood. The Scottish Funding Council are providing  £2.5million over the next five years to help fund the work.Jo Mountford

The project, which kicked-off in 2009, has also received £3million backing from the Wellcome Trust.  

The industrial generation of blood from stem cells would end current problems in maintaining supply of blood for transfusion, managing the risk of infection and ensuring compatibility between donor and recipient.

The researchers will test human embryos left over from IVF treatment to find those that are genetically programmed to develop into the "O-negative" blood group, which is the universal donor group whose blood can be transfused into anyone without fear of tissue rejection.

This blood group is relatively rare, applicable to about 7 per cent of the population, but it could be produced in unlimited quantities from embryonic stem cells because of their ability to multiply indefinitely in the laboratory.

The aim is to stimulate embryonic stem cells to develop into mature, oxygen-carrying red blood cells for emergency transfusions. Such blood would have the benefit of not being at risk of being infected with viruses such as HIV and hepatitis,

Unique to the UK,  the project has the potential not only be transformational for public good but also to deliver major economic benefits for Scotland. There is a massive unmet and increasing clinical demand for blood – in the UK alone 2.2 million units of blood are used each year at a cost of around £140 per unit. It is estimated that the UK market could be worth up to £308 million per year and worldwide over £11.2 billion per year (based on an estimate of 80 million units).

Coordinated by the internationally-leading stem cell research team at the University of Glasgow, this collaboration will be multi-disciplinary, with key research teams in the biochemistry, engineering and social science fields.

Dr Mountford said: “This funding will allow us to really start translating basic laboratory science into industrial processes. One of the main challenges of this project is the very large number of cells that will be needed; therefore we will need to develop new bio-process and engineering solutions alongside the biology. Funding for such cross-disciplinary work is uncommon and we are delighted to receive this investment to truly integrate these approaches.”

Mark Batho, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “The Funding Council is delighted to provide funding for this ground-breaking project. This exciting collaboration aims to provide a solution to a longstanding problem and one that touches many lives; if successful then this will not only be of great benefit for people in Scotland but has the potential also to deliver significant economic gain.”

The other partners in the project include Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and the universities of Edinburgh and Dundee, and Heriot-Watt University.

First published: 17 March 2011

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