Researchers on the Anschutz Medical Campus have discovered a scientific process that could make blood drives a thing of the past.
Yosef Refaeli and Brian Turner, co-founders of Taiga Biotechnologies Inc., have developed a new method in which they use their proprietary blood stem-cell lines from cord blood to generate mature, adult red blood cells in the lab in 14 days.
The blood stem-cell lines are cultured in tissue-culture dishes with a special mixture that supports stem-cell growth and placed in an incubator that aims to mimic conditions in the human body. Typically, the mixture has salts and nutrients that enable cells to grow in a dish.
“All cells need a special kind of media to grow in the lab,” Refaeli said. “We have devised a special kind of media that either supports blood stem-cell growth in a dish for extended periods of time or enables us to push them to develop into red blood cells.”
Taiga has already performed tests on mice and estimates the blood is less than five years from clinical trials on humans. Refaeli expects those trials will progress quickly, depending on the regulatory environment.
“Some patients require one blood transfusion every day, so you quickly realize whether the blood cells are working,” Turner said.
Meanwhile, Taiga will work on figuring out how to make large amounts of cells in the lab in clinically relevant numbers.
If Taiga is successful, the implications could be huge.
It would ensure the blood supply is easily replenished, its shelf life is longer and it is not contaminated with infectious diseases. The blood type produced would be O negative, the universal donor type.
“Every day they take a blood transfusion off the shelf, they’re playing Russian roulette,” Refaeli said. “Mismatching blood is the biggest danger in hospitals.”
Human blood has a shelf life of 28 days. However, the first 10 days after it’s drawn are spent testing it for pathogens,
effectively giving medical professionals just 18 days to use it.”If you use it as little as one day past its expiration, the risk of infection doubles,” Refaeli said. “This technology extends the shelf life to 120 days.”
The ability to make blood would be of enormous benefit to the military. Forty percent of all field casualties occur within the first hour of injury, and roughly half of those are because blood wasn’t available fast enough, said Refaeli, who envisions a mobile laboratory that could grow blood and be put on the front lines in military conflicts.
It also would benefit some cancer patients, such as those with multiple myeloma who need more than one unit of blood a day for at least a year.
Hospitals and emergency rooms nationwide need about 40,000 units of blood daily to treat patients with cancer and other diseases, for organ-transplant recipients and to help save the lives of accident/trauma victims, according to AABB, an international, nonprofit association representing people and institutions involved in transfusion medicine and cellular therapies.
In 2006, more than 30 million blood components were transfused, according to AABB. With an aging population and advances in medical treatments and procedures requiring blood transfusions, the demand for blood continues to increase.
About 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, but less than 10 percent does so annually, according to AABB.
The concept of developing an unlimited supply of blood is nothing new. Over the past few years, scientists around the world have tried a number of methods.
Canadian scientists have transformed human skin into blood. If a patient’s own skin is used, it would eliminate the risk of their body’s immune system rejecting blood from a donor. They expect to complete testing whether the blood cells can be safely transferred into humans by 2012, and the blood could be available in hospitals in a few years.
Scottish cell biologist Marc Turner has been trying to grow O-negative blood from human embryonic stem cells. Unlike Taiga’s use of stem cells from cord blood, the use of embryonic stem cells is controversial in the United States.
Still, no one has come up with a method that is approved for widespread use.
“Over my career in blood banking, I have heard literally hundreds of times if project X works out, you’re going to be out of business,” said Dr. Joe Chaffin, medical director and vice president of medical affairs for the Bonfils Blood Center. “But for now, it’s more than safe to say that we are still in business and will remain so for the foreseeable future.”
Last fall, Taiga received three National Institutes of Health grants totaling $1.7 million. One grant is being used to grow red blood cells; the second is to cultivate universal-donor stem cells; the third is to test a novel approach to HIV vaccination.
In January, Refaeli and Turner turned down $30 million from a San Francisco Bay Area investor because they don’t want to move the company out of Colorado.
But equipping their lab with the equipment needed to continue their research is challenging.
“This facility is simply not set up to support startups the way they do in the Bay Area,” Refaeli said. “We’re under intense pressure to move.”
Margaret Jackson: 303-954-1473 or firstname.lastname@example.org