April 24, 2024

Blood from embryonic stem cells

Advanced Cell Technology in headlines again
A company specialising in embryonic
stem cell research has reported in the leading journal Blood that it
can create red blood cells from embryonic stem cells. In a company
press release Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, highlighted
the importance of his results.

“Limitations in the supply of blood
can have potentially life-threatening consequences for patients with
massive blood loss. Embryonic stem cells represent a new source of
cells that can be propagated and expanded indefinitely, providing a
potentially inexhaustible source of red blood cells for human

The news made headlines everywhere, but
a bit of scepticism is due, even though Blood is an important,
peer-reviewed journal. First, ACT
is on the verge of running out of cash
and has a history of
making sensational claims which get abundant media coverage even
though the advances have little practical application.

Second, although ACT’s method was 100
times more efficient than previous efforts, most of the cells had
embryonic or fetal versions of globin, the compound in red blood
cells that carries oxygen. Only a few appeared to contain the adult
globin that would be needed by patients, according to Eric
Bouhassira, a professor of stem cell biology and regenerative
medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Finally, the blood would be far too
expensive to produce at the moment – perhaps thousands of dollars
per unit.