Researchers report that they used stem cells to create cultured red blood cells and then successfully injected the blood cells back into the human donor who provided the stem cells in the first place.
The findings raise the possibility of creating individualized blood supplies without making people donate their own blood for storage before they need a transfusion, a potentially dicey situation if someone is ill.
The researchers said that the cultured red blood cells created with the help of stem cells from the donor -- and then inserted back into the donor -- lived about as long as regular blood cells normally do.
The study, the first to show that red blood cells created from stem cells can survive in the human body, is "a major breakthrough for the transplant community," Dr. Luc Douay, senior study author and a professor of hematology at Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, said in a news release from the American Society of Hematology.
"There is a dire need for an alternative source of transfusable blood products, especially with the risk of infection from emergent new viruses that comes with traditional transfusion," Douay explained. "Producing red blood cells in culture is promising since other efforts to create alternative sources have not yet been as successful as once hoped."
However, one expert said the research isn't quite as exciting as it may sound.
Creating red blood cells from your own stem cells is "going to be an extremely complex process, extremely expensive, not very convenient and uncommonly used," explained Dr. Paul Holland, a blood banking specialist and a clinical professor of medicine and pathology at the University of California, Davis Medical Center.
"Most people who need a transfusion need it now, and they use blood from donors that's already there," he said. One exception might be if someone has a condition that makes it difficult to match his or her blood to other donors and it's dangerous to draw and save their own blood, he said.
The findings appear in the Sept. 1 issue of the journal Blood.