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Canadian boffins make blood from human skin, put it into mice

And this time, the mice didn't die! New therapies ahead

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Canadian boffins say they have managed to make human skin turn into blood: and, cleverly, they have avoided the possible pitfall of the new blood tending to cause cancer in mice.

It was already known how to make red blood cells from stem cells, but the trouble with this method is that it produces embryonic or fetal blood - very different from adult blood. Furthermore, the practice of using "pluripotent" stem cells - ones which could become anything - can cause tumours to form in animals receiving the resulting products.

According to top Canadian blood boffin Mickie Bhatia and his team, their method involves no pluripotent cells at any stage and produces proper adult blood with red cells, white cells and platelets all complete. The method involves infecting living adult skin cells with a special virus which inserts a gene known as OCT4.

The GM skin was then grown in a cytokine mixture, and transformed itself into blood. Bhatia and his colleagues report that at no stage was any sign seen of pluripotency or of embryonic forms - and when the new blood was put into experimental mice they didn't develop teratomas, a type of tumour which tends to crop up when pluripotent cells are about.

Nobody has had enough guts to put any of the new arti-blood into a person yet, however. The necessary clearance process for that will take a long time, but once it is complete the scientists think that processes like Bhatia's could produce a lot of new, useful treatments.

This wouldn't necessarily be limited to ordinary blood transfusions: there is the potential to replace other types of cell, for instance heart muscles. Furthermore, boffins consider that it would perhaps be possible to tackle various kinds of cancer or blood conditions like anaemia by effectively replacing a patient's blood supply completely.

"We'll now go on to work on developing other types of human cell types from skin, as we already have encouraging evidence," says Bhatia.

"Producing blood from a patient's own skin cells has the potential of making bone marrow transplant HLA matching and paucity of donors a thing of the past," chips in Cynthia Dunbar of the US National Institutes of Health, commenting on the Canadian team's work.

Bhatia and his team's paper is published by Nature here (subscription link). The hefty boffinry mag also provides helpful explanation for laypersons here. ®

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