July 11, 2010

‘Artificial Blood’ For The Battlefield?

American scientists have developed "artificial blood" that could soon be used to treat soldiers who are wounded during battle.

The artificial blood is created by taking cells from umbilical cords and using a machine to imitate the way bone marrow works to produce mass quantities of usable units of red blood cells.

Producing the genetically-engineered blood is known as "Ëœblood pharming'. The program was launched in 2008 by the Pentagon's experimental sector, Darpa, to find a way to create blood to treat soldiers on the battlefield.

Arteriocyte, the firm that took on the project, shipped off its first allotment of O-negative blood to the US Food and Drug Administration.

The breakthrough could help provide enough blood for transfusions on the battlefield.

Pharming is achieved by using hematopoietic cells that are taken from umbilical cords. Scientists use genetically engineered plants or animals to create mass quantities of useful substances. An umbilical cord can be turned into 20 units of usable blood. During treatment, one soldier requires an average of six units.

The blood cells produced using this method are virtually -- and functionally -- "indistinguishable from red blood cells in healthy circulation," the company claims.

Arteriocyte head Don Brown told Wired magazine that: "we're basically mimicking bone marrow in a lab environment."

"Our model works, but we need to extrapolate our production abilities to make scale."

If the artificial blood is approved it could revolutionize battlefields where a shortage of blood donors can hamper the treatment of wounded soldiers. The process of performing transfusions in war zones is also more difficult because donated blood has to be transported over long distances before it reaches field hospitals where it is needed.

Most blood is already 21 days old before it reaches patients, leaving only a week or so of shelf-life left before it must be discarded. There is also increased risk of infection or organ failure if blood is too old.

"Until now, the military's strategy has mainly been contained to basically using stale blood," said Brown.

"And they'll set up mobile blood banks in a war zone, but even every troop rolling up their sleeve might not be enough when you've got a crisis with dozens or more injuries," he added.

Human trials are not likely to occur until around 2013, but the firm predicts the artificial blood could be used by the military within five years if the Pentagon calls for it sooner.

Currently, each unit created by Arteriocyte costs $5,000. If approved, the firm expects to bring this down to around $1,000 per unit by scaling up the production process.

Artificial blood may even someday be used in hospitals to make up for blood donation shortfalls. All "pharmed" blood is type O negative which is the most sought after variation because it can be used with any patient, regardless of their own blood type.


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