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“Immortal” BEL-A Cell Line is a Huge Breakthrough for Blood Transfusions

May 9, 2017 by Andrea

petri dish

Last year, we talked about the potential of artificial blood being created and used to give blood transfusions to those in need when supplies of donated blood fall short. Since then, there has been an exciting new development in this technological space: An immortal stem cell line -- the first of its kind ever -- has been produced, allowing scientists to engineer an unlimited supply of artificial red blood cells whenever they're needed.

Known as BEL-A (Bristol Erythroid Line Adult), these "immortal" cells were created by researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK using blood from volunteers who donated for the purpose of this study. Science Alert reports, "To create these 'immortal' cells, [the researchers] effectively trapped the adult stem cells in an early stage of development, which means they can divide and create red blood cells forever without dying, which avoids the need for repeat donations." Such findings will enable scientists to more easily and quickly harvest and maintain large amounts of red blood cells.

The purpose of red blood cells is to carry oxygen throughout the body -- this is especially important for sickle cell warriors, as sickled red blood cells can disrupt this flow and block blood vessels, causing pain and potentially, a crisis. "Cultured red blood cells provide such an alternative and have potential advantages over donor blood, such as reduced risk of infectious disease transmission, and as the cells are nascent, the volume and number of transfusions administered to patients requiring regular transfusions (sickle cell disease, thalassaemia myelodysplasia, certain cancers) could be reduced, ameliorating the consequences of organ damage from iron overload," explains a recent article from Nature Communications.

Clinical trials for the artificial blood created by BEL-A cells are expected to begin by the end of 2017. If everything goes well and the product is proven safe and effective in humans, it can begin being used to treat people in need all over the world.

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