Whenever there’s war, there’s bloodshed. And too often a soldier who has lost too much blood will die because there simply aren’t donors or it’s too difficult to transport the right blood to the area of need. There are mobile blood banks, but they rarely have enough blood. And donations from the United States often take three weeks to arrive when waiting two weeks can lead to organ failure. But new research from the Pentagon’s experimental arm could go a long way toward saving many of these soldiers. Ohio company Arteriocyte is developing artificial blood that is virtually indistinguishable from normal, human blood for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The blood is being created from stem cells procured from discarded umbilical cords. The stem cells are transformed into red blood cells through “blood pharming,” a process that artificially simulates what blood marrow does in the body. With blood pharming, one umbilical cord’s worth of cells can lead to enough blood for three transfusions to injured soldiers, or anyone else for that matter.
One major obstacle with this science, as with all science, is funding. In 2008, Arteriocyte was given just under $2 million for artificial blood research. But now that the initial research is done, production costs have turned out to be quite high. A blood transfusion is traditionally around 3 pints of blood, and right now the cost to produce one pint is at $5,000. Researchers hope to improve the technology somewhere along the chain, whether its gaining more cells per umbilical cord or streamlining the actual pharming process, in order to bring that cost down to $1,000.
Trails with humans are expected to start in 2013, and if all goes well this blood, which is of the O-negative universal donor blood type, could be available for military use just two years thereafter. Right now, the blood is pending approval from the FDA.