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November 8th, 2010
05:50 PM ET

Scientists convert skin to blood

Researchers at Canada's McMaster University report that they've figured out how to make blood out of human skin.

The breakthrough could eventually mean that patients needing blood for surgery, cancer treatment or treatment of blood conditions like anemia will be able to have blood created from a patch of their own skin to provide transfusions, the university said.

Skin cells that are removed from the patient can be multiplied in a petri dish and converted into a large quantity of blood cells, which themselves can be multiplied, lead researcher Mick Bhatia told CNN.

"We're hoping that about a 4-by-3-centimeters patch of skin could be removed from the patient, be converted through this process, which we clearly have to optimize, and ultimately have enough to transplant (enough blood for) a full-grown adult," said Bhatia, scientific director of the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in McMaster's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

The scientists were able to convert the cells directly without first converting them to pluripotent stem cells - the kind that can grow into any type of organ or tissue - and then converting them again to blood, Bhatia said.

"This groundbreaking work from Mick Bhatia's lab is both fascinating and important," said Samuel Weiss, professor and director, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary. "It heralds a new age by discovering a role for 'directed differentiation' in the treatment of cancers and other disorders of the blood and immune system."

The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Stem Cell Network and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. It was published in Monday's edition of the journal Nature.

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