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Humans have a monumental thirst for blood. With the average red blood cell transfusion using around 3 pints of blood, approximately 27,000 blood donations are needed every week in Australia to meet that demand. The problem is, blood platelets have quite a short “shelf-life” lasting only 7 days, with red blood cells lasting just 35 days. Also, with most blood donors often being unpaid volunteers, supply is usually far short of demand. Just 1 in 30 people give blood, yet figures show that it’s closer to 1 in 3 people who will need donated blood in their lifetime.
This shortfall has lead to an increase in something known as autotransfusion. This is the process of donating your own blood for your own use in the near future. Typically the blood is collected before surgery, and banked should you need a transfusion. However there is another way that the shortfall can be tackled: with the emergence of synthetic blood.

Until recently, a synthetic blood substitute that is capable of providing the exact nutrients and other qualities of organic blood, has appeared to be nothing but a futuristic creation belonging only to sci-fi movies. The main problem arises during manufacture whilst trying to create the natural stress resistant properties found in natural organic blood. This is usually created by a protein called hemerythrin, which is also the protein responsible for transporting oxygen through the blood. Until now most synthetics produced were unable to stand up to most common stress factors, usually turning toxic.

So scientists have a history of miserable fails when it comes producing synthetic blood. But modern science looks likely to change all that, with a recent series of breakthroughs in the study and manufacture of synthetic blood.

A research team based in a city in North-West Romania (ironically the home to the legend of Dracula), lead by 39 year old professor Radu Silaghi-Dumitrescu, recently claimed to have potentially created the first ever successful recipe for synthetic blood manufactured in a lab. The team have been working on the recipe for the last six years, made from salt, water and proteins. The trials were successfully conducted on mice in a lab and must be repeated again, then analysed further for any signs of toxicity before human trials can begin. Source: MediaFax

Then back in April, Marc Turner, medical director at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service announced: “We have made red blood cells, for the first time, that are fit to go in a person’s body.”
The £5 million medical project focuses on manufacturing synthetic blood from human stem cells; with plans to run groundbreaking human trials as early as 2016 and the potential to produce synthetic blood on an “industrial scale”. Source: The Australian

Whilst scientists work hard to create the perfect recipe for a synthetic blood suitable for human use; blood donations are still crucial to the health system. Thanks to modern processing techniques, a single one pint blood donation can help at least 3 different people, contributing towards up to 22 different products including potentially life-saving immunisations for diseases such as chicken pox, hepatitis B and tetanus. If you would like more information on donating blood, please visit the Australian Red Cross.

Hayley Reeve is a writer for Surgical Holdings – a leading UK surgical instruments manufacturer and repairer. You can catch-up with them over on Twitter or on their website: www.surgicalholdings.co.uk