Bristol breakthrough in the manufacture of red blood cells

Researchers have generated the first immortalised cell lines that allow more-efficient manufacture of red blood cells. The results, published in Nature Communications (Trakarnsanga K, Griffiths RE, Wilson MC et al. An immortalized adult human erythroid line facilitates sustainable and scalable generation of functional red cells. Nat Commun 2017 Mar 14; 8: 14750. doi: 10.1038/ncomms14750) could, if successfully tested in clinical trials, lead to a safe source of transfusions for people with rare blood types, and in areas of the world where blood supplies are inadequate or unsafe.

Previously, research in this field focused on growing donated stem cells straight into mature red blood cells. However, that method presently produces small numbers of mature cells and requires repeat donations. The team in Bristol has now developed a robust and reproducible technique that permits the production of immortalised erythroid cell lines from adult stem cells. These premature red cells can be cultured indefinitely, allowing larger-scale production, before being differentiated into mature red blood cells.

         Dr Jan Frayne, from The University of Bristol School of Biochemistry, said: “Previous approaches to producing red blood cells have relied on various sources of stem cells, which can only presently produce very limited quantities. By taking an alternative approach, we have generated the first human immortalised adult erythroid line (Bristol Erythroid Line Adult [BELA]), and in doing so have demonstrated a feasible, sustainable way to manufacture red cells for clinical use from in vitro culture.