In 2010 I blogged about the exciting finding that researchers could derive most blood cell types from stem cells. You can read more about that here. Here also is a video of Micky Bhatia discussing the findings: Mick Bhatia on turning skin cells into blood.
Now comes a new paper (you can read it here) from a team of researchers led by ACT’s Robert Lanza that reports the production of human platelets from human ES cells. The platelets functioned normally in tests in mice. Of course human trials would be needed as well.
There is tremendous need for both blood and platelets throughout the world. These findings suggest that stem cell-derived blood may be on the horizon in 5-10 years as a treatment for the millions of patients who need it. Platelets are also extremely important for medicine as well and as one reads through this paper, it would appear that stem cell-derived platelets could be approved for therapies as well. Of course, clinical grade platelets would be far simpler to produce than whole blood, which is quite complex, and the paper from the Bhatia lab in 2010 reported they were not able to make lymphocytes.
One of the advantages of platelets and red blood cells (RBCs) derived from stem cells is that they would pose no cancer safety risk to patients, assuming no residual human ES cells remained, since both platelets and RBCs have no nuclei and hence no DNA so they cannot replicate. Another advantage would be to lessen the need for donors.
Hopefully these different teams of researchers can work together toward the ultimate goal of making stem cell-derived whole blood, perhaps even a universal donor type of blood.