Mass-produced blood project threatened by stem cell ruling

Europe-wide ban on human embryo patents will drive away private investors, scientists fear

A Europe-wide ban on patents derived from human embryonic stem cells threatens to undermine a pioneering British research project to produce industrial-scale quantities of synthetic blood for hospital transfusions.

The scientist in charge of an attempt to mass-produce human red blood cells from stem cells derived from spare IVF embryos said the European Court of Justice's patent ruling could force him to switch to non-embryonic stem cells.

A team of UK researchers, funded by the Wellcome Trust medical research charity, is trying to develop stem cells derived from spare IVF embryos to make large volumes of red blood cells for use in transfusions.

They have successfully produced oxygen-carrying red cells and are trying to scale up production to make industrial quantities of substitute blood, but will almost certainly need further investment from the private sector.

However, earlier this month the European Court of Justice ruled that it was not possible to patent inventions using human embryonic stem cells, a decision widely condemned by leading stem-cell scientists in Britain who argued that it would stymie private investment in this new area of medical research.

"Unfortunately it will make it less likely that companies in Europe will invest in the research to develop treatments to use embryonic stem cells for treatment of human diseases," said Professor Sir Ian Wilmut of Edinburgh University, who cloned Dolly the sheep.

Professor Marc Turner, director of the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service in Edinburgh, told The Independent that the ban on patents using human embryonic stem cells could also jeopardise his project on synthetic blood because it is likely to affect future investment by private organisations.

"The NHS is not in the business of developing products and to see this technology going forward we would need private investment. In the broadest sense, the patent ruling will have an impact on possible investment by the private sector," he said.

Rather than using stem cells derived from spare IVF embryos, the research team, based in Edinburgh and Glasgow, is considering shifting to stem cells derived from human adult cells that have been transformed genetically by a technique known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, he said.

"The ruling will have an effect in that we are now considering the possibility of adapting the project appropriately. We may move from embryonic stem cells to [non embryonic] iPS cells," Professor Turner explained.

The aim of the £3m project is to develop an alternative source of O-negative blood, the universal donor group that can be transfused into the vast majority of the population without fear of rejection.

More than 100 spare IVF embryos from fertility clinics have been used to establish several embryonic stem cell lines that replicate continuously in the laboratory. One cell line, known as RC-7, has been successfully converted into mature red blood cells, however tests have shown that the line of cells is not the O-negative universal donor.

Professor Turner said there are still technical problems with the technique, such as the ability of the red cells to eject their nucleii correctly, but he hopes to begin clinical trials in two or three years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk