Canadian team turns skin into blood

Scientists at Canada’s McMaster University have discovered how to make human blood directly from a patient’s own skin.

The discovery could mean that in future people needing blood will be able to receive transfusions of perfectly matched blood created from a patch of their own skin. Clinical trials could begin as soon as 2012.

Mick Bhatia, scientific director of McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute was able to making the blood directly. There was no need for an intermediate step of changing a skin stem cell into a pluripotent stem cell – which could make many other types of human cells as well – and then turning it into a blood stem cell.

“We have shown this works using human skin. We know how it works and believe we can even improve on the process,” said Bhatia. “We’ll now go on to work on developing other types of human cell types from skin, as we already have encouraging evidence.”

The discovery has been replicated several times over two years using human skin from both young and old people.

“During my 30 years as a practicing blood specialist, my colleagues and I have been pleased to help care for cancer patients whose lives were saved by bone marrow transplants,” says John Kelton, hematologist and dean and vice-president of health sciences for McMaster University.

“For all physicians, but especially for the patients and their families, the illness became more frustrating when we were prevented from giving a bone marrow transplant because we could not find a perfect donor match in the family or the community. Dr Bhatia’s discovery could permit us to help this important group of patients.”