Quick hit: synthetic blood from stem cells

So, this is some super-cool science news from the BBC!

UK scientists plan a major research project to see if synthetic human blood can be made from embryonic stem cells.

Led by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, the three year trial could provide an unlimited supply of blood for emergency transfusions.

Scientists have already shown it is possible to take a single stem cell from an early human embryo and encourage it to develop into mature blood cells in the laboratory.

And a US firm called Advanced Cell Technology has managed to produce billions of red blood cells from embryonic blood cells in this way.

The challenge now is to scale up the production and move the science from the lab to the bedside, which will take years.

Professor Turner said: “We should have proof of principle in the next few years, but a realistic treatment is probably five to 10 years away.

“In principle, we could provide an unlimited supply of blood in this way.”

This is especially handy since they can pick out only those embryos with O-type blood to create the stem cells. O is the only safe blood type to use in emergency situation, since it’s the “universal donor” and contains none of the antibodies that some people react to. Unfortunately, only 7% of the population has blood type O, so it’s always in short supply. By creating synthetic blood from stem cells, we can not only be sure to eliminate the risk of blood-borne diseases in transfusions, we can also have unlimited quantities of type O blood on hand for any time we’re unsure of (or don’t have time to check) a patient’s blood type! Hurray!

Well, mostly hurray. Some people aren’t so happy.

However, many groups object to the use of embryonic stem cells on the grounds that it is unethical to destroy embryos in the name of science.

Josephine Quintavalle of the public interest group Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: “Like so many of the claims associated with embryonic stem cells, this is first steps research rather than a cure around the corner, and just as hypothetical as the rest of the claims which try to justify destroying the human embryo for the benefit of mankind.

First, this isn’t in the name of science. I mean, I like science, so I don’t think things done “in the name of science” are less worthwhile just because they’re not focused on practical benefits. It’s just inaccurate in this case. We’re researching this process in the name of saving millions of lives, not in the name of science.

Also, does this make any sense at all as a reasonable way to protest?

“Associating this controversial research with a National Blood Transfusion service may even end up contaminating the feel-good image of blood banks.

“Those who donate blood but who defend the right to life of the human embryo may be reluctant to continue giving their blood.”

Scientists are researching ways to, in ten years, solve the problem of not getting enough O-type blood from voluntary donations. So now, you think blood banks are Evil, so you’re going to stop donating blood. Zuh?? Wouldn’t it be the opposite way around– every ounce of blood you donate is a widdle baby embryo that doesn’t have to be turned into synthetic blood? If you don’t want us to make stem-cell blood, don’t stop donating yours! Form huge crowds of type-O donors and mob those blood banks so we don’t have a reason anymore for synthetic blood! You think these scientists could get any funding if the blood banks were glutted with type O blood? No way! Refusing to donate is only going to increase their support!

But I guess that kind of logical thought is too science-y for this crowd. So go ahead, give the blood banks a miss. We’ll carry on without you. In the name of science!

Advertisements

One Response to Quick hit: synthetic blood from stem cells

  1. We’re researching this process in the name of saving millions of lives, not in the name of science.

    Seriously. Destroying embryos that would likely be destroyed anyway, in order to save lives. How is that immoral? How in the hell is that against a “right to life” philosophy?

    Associating this controversial research with a National Blood Transfusion service may even end up contaminating the feel-good image of blood banks.

    *blink* Yes, we mustn’t have that evil science stuff corrupting our sainted morals. To protect our morals from contamination, we must avoid such snake-oil schemes as donating blood to organizations that sort of but aren’t really connected to the scientists we have a problem with. Clearly, they are identical, because they both have the word ‘blood’ in the title.

    Oy. I’m becoming further convinced that anybody who is willing to police morality needs to take both logic and ethics courses – or be a bloody autodidact (pun unintentional). Because shit like this comes down every day in the name of holding everybody to a standard a minority believes is right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: