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Red Blood Cell Breakthrough

I was curious to learn more about red blood cells and want to share what I learned and also tell you about a new medical research breakthrough. Red blood cells, also known as erythrocytes, are tiny, disk-shaped cells that make up the majority of our blood cells. The cells contain the pigment hemoglobin, which imparts the red color to the blood. Red blood cells are like microscopic delivery trucks, carrying oxygen from our lungs to our tissues and removing carbon dioxide waste in return. These tiny powerhouses are crucial for keeping our body functioning properly.

Red blood cells are vital for several reasons. First is the oxygen delivery. Without oxygen, our cells can’t function, and our body would shut down. Red blood cells ensure consistent oxygen delivery to every corner of our body, keeping us alive and energized. Second is the waste removal. As our cells use oxygen, they generate carbon dioxide as waste. Red blood cells pick up this waste and transport it back to our lungs for exhalation, preventing toxic buildup. Finally, red blood cells play a role in regulating body temperature and acidity, contributing to overall homeostasis (internal balance) in our body.

The challenge is red blood cell shortages can occur due to several reasons. Increased demand from accidents, surgeries, and chronic conditions like sickle cell anemia. Sometimes there just isn’t enough to go around. Donor limitations can make things worse. Some factors like low hemoglobin levels, recent tattoos, or certain medications can prevent individuals from donating blood thereby restricting the donor pool. There can also be supply chain disruptions due to natural disasters, transportation issues, or processing delays.

It is really important to have an inventory available for blood transfusions. The transfusions are given to patients who experience a significant blood loss or have conditions affecting their red blood cell production or function. Some of the big demands on the supply come from accidents or trauma due to severe injuries which can lead to significant blood loss requiring transfusions to restore oxygen delivery and prevent complications. Some surgeries, especially major ones, often require additional blood to compensate for expected blood loss during the procedure. People with conditions like anemia, leukemia, or sickle cell disease may have low red blood cell counts or dysfunctional cells, necessitating regular transfusions. As a result of cancer treatment, radiation or chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, which produces red blood cells. Transfusions can help maintain oxygen levels during treatment.

The bottom line is red blood cells are fundamental to life, and their supply is crucial for patients requiring transfusions. While shortages can occur, maintaining regular blood donations and efficient management of the blood supply chain are essential to ensure everyone has access to this vital resource when needed. A recent medical research breakthrough has the potential to ensure adequate supply of red blood cells.

Researchers at the University of Bristol in the U.K. have been working on lab-grown blood cells. One of the challenges has been the hassle of matching blood types. This can result in patients not getting what they need while donated blood may go to waste. An attractive alternative would be large-scale production of red blood cells in labs, which can be tuned to have whichever blood type is needed. Scientists have been working toward this goal for decades, and now a major milestone has been achieved with the first ever transfusion of lab-grown blood into human patients.

What is unique about this research is a donor of blood stem cells from someone other than the patient needing the blood. The stem cells are then processed in a soup of nutrients, which over a period of weeks converts the stem cells into red blood cells. The resulting red blood cells have been transfused into an unrelated patient as part of a clinical trial. The amount of blood transfused was small, as the objective is to prove safety of the process. Researchers are quite optimistic about the potential. Watch a short video of Professor Ash Toye of the University of Bristol in which he describes the red blood cell clinical trial and the potential benefits here.

You can read the full article about this research in New Atlas here. You can also read about other kinds of medical research in Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare.

Note: I use Bard AI as my copilot and research assistant. AI can boost productivity for anyone who creates content. Sometimes I get incorrect data from AI, and when something looks suspicious, I dig deeper. Sometimes the data varies by sources where AI finds it. I take responsibility for my posts and if anyone spots an error, I will appreciate knowing it, and will correct it.