Tuesday, March 24, 2009

British scientists 'to create synthetic blood from embryonic stem cells'

Many people will object to this on moral grounds but, even though abortion horrifies me, I cannot see the harm in using material that would otherwise be discarded

British scientists are planning a ground-breaking research project to create synthetic human blood from embryonic stem cells, it has been disclosed. The results could provide an unlimited supply of blood for emergency transfusions free of the risk of infection. It could revolutionise blood transfusion services, which currently rely on a network of human donors to provide a constant supply of fresh blood.

The three-year project will be led by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and includes NHS Blood and Transplant and the Wellcome Trust, the world's biggest medical research charity.

The artificial blood will be made from the stem cells of human embryos left over from IVF treatment. Researchers will test the embryos to find those that are genetically programmed to develop into the "O-negative" blood group. This is the universal donor group, whose blood can be transfused to any patient without the fear of tissue rejection. The rare blood group, which is applicable to only 7 per cent of the population, could then be produced in unlimited quantities because of the embryonic stem cells' ability to multiply indefinitely.

The objective is to stimulate the cells to develop into mature, oxygen-carrying red blood cells for emergency transfusions. Such blood would have the benefit of not being at risk of being infected with viruses such as HIV and hepatitis.

The SNBTS is expected within weeks to sign an agreement with the Wellcome Trust for a grant to fund the multi-million pound research project. A spokeswoman for the SNBTS confirmed that the research project was to go ahead but said that no further comment could be made because it was bound by a confidentiality agreement with the Wellcome Trust.

According to The Independent, the project will be led by Professor Marc Turner, of Edinburgh University, the director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. Professor Turner has been involved in studies examining ways to ensure donated blood is free of the infectious agent behind variant CJD, the human form of "mad cow" disease.

Last year, Advanced Cell Technology, a US biotechnology firm, claimed it had produced billions of functioning red blood cells from embryonic stem cells. However, US projects have been delayed due to funding problems as a result of the ban on embryonic stem cell research introduced by the Bush administration, which Barack Obama has since overturned.


Proteins from garden pea may help fight high blood pressure and kidney disease (but only for rats so far)

One has to laugh! Pease pies (pies containing meat with a topping of mushy peas) are an old favourite in Australia. Who knew that we were doing ourselves such a lot of good?

Extracts from garden peas could be used as a food additive or supplement to reduce high blood pressure and kidney disease, claim scientists. Peas have long been recognised as a superfood containing protein, dietary fibre, and vitamins wrapped in a low-fat, cholesterol-free package. But new research shows for the first time that concentrating extracts from the pea can have dramatic affect on blood pressure and chronic kidney disease (CKD).

"In people with high blood pressure, our protein could potentially delay or prevent the onset of kidney damage," said study author Dr Rotimi Aluko, a food chemist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. "In people who already have kidney disease, our protein may help them maintain normal blood pressure levels so they can live longer."

The study, which will be presented at the American Chemical Society's conference, is the first reporting that a natural food product can relieve symptoms of kidney disease, the scientists said. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for CKD, a condition that has been affecting an increasing number of people around the world. CKD is difficult to treat, and may progress to end-stage kidney disease that requires kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Working with colleague Dr Harold Aukema, Dr Aluko purified a mixture of small proteins – called pea protein hydrolysate – from the yellow garden pea. The researchers fed small daily doses of the protein mixture to laboratory rats with kidney disease. At the end of the eight-week-long study period, the protein-fed rats with kidney disease showed a 20 per cent drop in blood pressure when compared to diseased rats on a normal diet, the researchers say.

"This is significant because a majority of CKD patients actually die from cardiovascular complications that arise from the high blood pressure associated with kidney malfunction," Dr Aluko said.


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