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Canadian scientists make blood from human skin

Canadian scientists have transformed pinches of human skin into petri dishes of human blood — a major medical breakthrough that could yield new sources of blood for transfusions after multiple rounds of surgery or chemotherapy.

Lead scientist Mick Bhatia, head of McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, said Sunday the first people to benefit may be leukemia patients, whose blood cells have a genetic mutation.

“Their skin cells don’t have that mutation,” he said.
“If we took skin cells from that patient and we converted it into blood in a Petri dish, we would be giving ourselves healthy blood cells we could transplant back into the patient. There would be no rejection because the cells are their own.”

It could mean saving the lives of patients suffering from the deadly blood cancer.

“The scenario I’m talking about would be where the patient can’t find a donor,” he said. “And that happens a lot.”
A similar treatment could help cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, which adversely affects the blood and can limit treatment.

To switch skin to blood, researchers took a tiny sample — less than a millimetre — of human skin and put it in a Petri dish. There, it turned into cells called fibroblasts. The scientists then added a protein that turned on or off sets of genes, bathed the mixture in more proteins necessary for human blood cells to survive and waited 30 days. By the end of the month they were then left several blood cells.
Mick Bhatia, science director at the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, was the lead investigator in the research.

The discovery was published this month in the science journal Nature. Early clinical trials could begin as in 2012.

But researchers still have a couple of hurdles — they need to be able to make enough blood and they need to be sure it’s sterile and stable enough for transfusion. But Bhatia’s hopeful.

“We think we would have enough to put into a full grown adult,” he said.

Bhatia added the discovery opens up a whole host of treatment possibilities for various diseases.

“We have some encouraging evidence that there’s more than just blood you can convert skin cells to,” he said.

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