The skinny on blood transfusions: a modern day miracle?

Most of us have read the biblical accounts of water being turned into wine.  Now Canadian scientists have discovered how to turn skin into blood.  This miraculous breakthrough could revolutionize cancer treatments and solve the blood donor shortage.

What is more because the blood is made from the patient’s own cells, there is no danger of either rejection or infection.

The team from McMaster University, Ontario say that the process has been so successful that treatment could be available within two years.

Dr Mick Bhatia who headed the team said “People will effectively become their own donors. We are very excited and very enthusiastic about it. There is a lot of work to be done but I would be disappointed if we were not trying it on patients by 2012.”

The research, published in Nature, is part of ongoing attempts across the world to revert adult cells back to their original stem cell form. Stem cells are “master cells” which can potentially be manipulated in a laboratory to become any other cell in the body.

Human Skin Cells

What’s unique about this process is that it misses out the “in-between” stage of turning the skin cells back to stem cells and then converting them to blood cells. Instead, the cell is reprogrammed directly by inserting a specific transcription factor – a protein that interacts with DNA to activate genes – and applying cytokines or signaling molecules.

The result – within a month the skin is converted to blood.

Leukemia patients are likely to be the first to receive transfusions of perfectly matched blood generated from their own skin. In future, laboratory manufactured blood could help to plug the gap caused by donor shortages. The technique also holds out the promise of making other kinds of cell, including neurons with the potential to treat brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Skin cells from both young and old people were used in the research to prove that age of donor made no difference to the process.

Next the team plans to assess what kind of production capacity might be possible with the cells, and whether they can successfully be stored in deep freeze.

As always, SRxA’s Word on Health will be watching these developments and bringing them straight to you.

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