COVID-19 Depletes Blood Supplies Prompting Testing of Artificial Blood

The coronavirus pandemic has led to blood supply shortages in many countries worldwide, including the U.S. In light of these shortages, scientists are stepping up clinical trials involving the development of artificial blood that has been researched for decades, but has so far remained elusive.

According to The Wall Street Journal, blood made in a lab could not only add to the supply from human donors, but could be a lifesaver for people with blood disorders that prohibit them from getting donations. Artificial blood can also be diligently screened for pathogens to ensure quality control.

In June, the American Red Cross said that because of the virus, thousands of planned blood drives had been canceled since mid-March, leaving the U.S. blood supply critically low. According to the Journal, low-income countries have been harder hit with shortages.

According to The Medical Futurist, despite tremendous efforts, artificial blood has been an “unsolvable biological puzzle.”

The pivotal breakthrough in creating artificial blood came in 2006, when researchers discovered induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells, that could morph into almost any kinds of cell in the body, including red blood cells and platelets, and multiply.

The Nobel Prize-winning technology prompted scientists to rethink their strategy and several researchers and companies are involved in developing IPS into artificial blood that could be accepted by nearly all patients, according to the Journal.

Experts say that making blood in a lab is costly, but with enough funding we could have a system of factories that could manufacture enough blood to support the supply of donated blood in case of national emergencies. It costs around $1 million to make one bag of platelets and that would be just enough for a typical transfusion.

According the Futurist, the artificial blood market could be worth $15.6 billion if scientists could develop the complex cocktail that delivers nutrients and oxygen to the body.

Dr. Cedric Ghaevert, of the Cambridge Cell Institute, is leading a National Health Service-funded study in the U.K. on lab-grown red blood cells, and foresees a collection of factories that can create and transport live-saving blood platelets wherever they are needed, according to the Journal.

“’Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ but applied to platelets? I think there’s no question such a thing will exist,” he said, according to the Journal.

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