Article: Synthetic Blood From Stem Cells? Yes, a Company Says
Author: David Ewing Duncan
Massachusetts company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) claims to have developed a potentially unlimited supply of synthetic blood using embryonic stem cells. According to ACT, they have manipulated the stem cells to create blood and claim it to be very similar to real blood, unlike previous attempts at artificial blood products. They are currently testing the new findings in human clinical trials to monitor the ability of the blood to transport oxygen appropriately. Because of this potential medical breakthrough, ACT is under pressure to produce favorable results towards relatively inexpensive and easy mass-production. While this is an early report on their progress, the company hopes to gain further financial support towards the investigation of their discovery, as well as boosting the support for the research of stem cells.
History and Progression:
Stem cells are basically a generic type of cell that are able to be modified into any kind of cell type and that can repair themselves. They were first discovered in the inner cell mass of embryos, which later turn into all the tissue and organ cells of the body as growth progresses. Less generic progenitor cells, found in adults, act as a type of repair system towards specific cell types. While it is believed that embryonic stem cells are more useful, both cell types have the potential to treat various nervous system abnormalities, genetic issues and other diseases, resulting in dramatic advances in the medical profession.
As a result of the recent federal ban on the use of federal funding for human embryo stem cell experimentation and the controversies of whether life begins at the conception or at fertilization, non-federal funding for research has been limited. Public and private funding, however, is not restricted and there have been moderate advances in the use of stem cells found in bone marrow. Researchers, like Robert Lanza of ACT, have been successfully developing ways to extract the embryonic stem cells without destroying the embryo itself. If these techniques prove consistent and are streamlined, there is hope that the US government will modify its restriction on human embryo stem cell experimentation funding, therefore limiting controversy and theoretically making room for health care progression.
Since the definition of the creation of human like is currently subjective, the ethics of researchers are often questioned by the people of opposite morals. The use of discarded fertilized in vitro (artificial insemination) embryos for stem cell experimentation has been considered by some pro-life proponents as a viable alternative. Until such a time that the widespread practice of stem cell extraction with embryo preservation is accepted, stem cell research will remain a topic of ethical controversy.
As of now, health care relies on blood donations for those that need transfusions for trauma or disease. While practices are in place to limit exposure to harmful pathogens, there is still a risk of contracting serious diseases, bacteria, and viruses using traditional means of phlebotomy. Using stem cells to create a type of artificial blood would eliminate this danger, in addition to theoretically eliminating a national shortage of blood if it can be generated in large quantities, as ACT claims.
As previously mentioned, there is a current ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, which has limited the mount of research being done. This announcement by ACT is an attempt to gain recognition in the advancement of the research and hopefully procure some financial support in order to speed up the process. Quick results could spur more interest in stem cell usage, should the results be favorable.
The obvious benefit would be the efficient, safe and inexpensive production of red blood cells.
A shortage of viable embryos, provided agreeable methods of obtaining stem cells were utilized, may pose an issue for mass-production. This would likely cause the prices of available synthetic blood to skyrocket and may slow down stem cell research in other areas.
It is difficult to separate political beliefs from religious beliefs in this example, since generally Republicans are more apt to be pro-life and Democrats are likely to be pro-choice. I am of the opinion that a parent-donated embryo is entirely acceptable for use in research. Others with certain religious beliefs may not agree that it is the parent’s choice to donate, arguing that life begins at conception and the soul is not given a fair chance to deny its use in research. Use of this science would concur with my personal beliefs in the advancement of the human race.