Lund University, SWEDEN. Scientists from the Center of Regenerative Medicine have discovered the genetic keys that unlock a gateway into the production of red blood cells (RBCs) from skin cells. It is now possible to reprogram skin cells and turn them into fully fledged RBCs in just eight days.
Johan Flygare, head of the study & research group, explains that although the cells were taken from mice, the results should be transferable to humans. He further explained a potential application of the technique could be the creation of personalized RBCs for transfusions, which would be a potentially ground-breaking technology given how difficult it is to match patients with the correct blood type in order to prevent immuno-rejection.
Capellera, one of the study authors, explains that it is the first time in science that the creation of RBCs from skin cells has been observed. The process however wasn’t easy. The research team had to introduce different combinations of some 60 genes into the genome of skin cells via synthetic virus vectors. Implanting the DNA directly wasn’t possible, so a vector was necessary. Getting the correct virus to insert the DNA into the genome was no easy feat. Finally however, one of the genes that was implanted had the desired effect – the production of RBCs from skin cells.
Amazingly however, out of some 20,000 genes in the human body, only four were discovered to be required to reprogram skin cells to become RBCs. These four genes serve as the key for the transformation, and are not believed to be interchangeable with any others.
The implications of the research are immense. If individuals could use their own skin cells to produce blood cells, not only would this have potential transfusion applications, but individuals suffering from anemia may be able to be treated by their own skin.
RBCs contain a key protein known as hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the oxygen carrier of the body, delivering oxygen to tissues to maintain life. RBCs are the required liquid through which hemoglobins must flow, and are the most common type of blood cell.
Source: Science Daily