Eli5: Why can’t we produce “artificial” blood?


Healthcare systems depend on blood donations, which are harmless for the donors because humans usually just reproduce blood and can repeat the process over and over. What about blood is so special that we can’t manufacture it in a lab or replace is with artificial blood?

In: 17

Blood is literally alive. It has a lot of red blood cells and white blood cells, which are alive. We cannot produce live cells artificially with current technology.

Well it seems to be something we are working on developing. But my guess would be it’s just not so easy retro-engineering (?) something that was a billion years in development and putting it in bodies that look to destroy anything that doesn’t belong.

The immune system would reject it. It’s a finicky thing. We can’t even transplant organs without heavy doses of anti rejection treatments and you wanna have artificial blood coursing through the entire body? Terrible Idea.

Your best bet is to engineer an organism based on humans that does next to nothing besides eat, produce blood, and “donate” blood. It would be horrific and disgusting, but would work.

It might be hard to grasp but blood is, for all intents and purposes, an organ. So you can’t make blood for the same reason you can’t make skin, hair or a brain.

So platelets are the clotting component of your blood. They only are good for roughly 5 days and they need to be suspended in plasma to keep them alive.

There is something called “Platelet Additive Solution” that is able to replace 60-70% of the plasma the platelets are suspended in. It is basically just salts and minerals and is able to keep the platelets happy enough.

Blood donation organizations sometimes use it when collecting platelets because they are able to take the 60-70% of plasma “saved” by using PAS and divert it into a separate plasma unit. That way when you donate platelets you sometimes are donating a separate plasma unit at the same time.

It is by no means artificial blood, but I thought you might find it interesting.

Back in the 90’s my dog got some Oxyglobin, which is “artificial blood” sorta, but my understanding is that they use cows blood to make it so it’s not uh, from scratch I guess.

Anyhow the companies attempt at a human version didn’t get any wide approval and they went under.

Producing artificial blood is like trying to maintain a garden with no workers.

Sure you can have all the ” ingredients”, water, seeds, fences etc. but some of those are living and others need upkeep or replacing.

You can’t just dump them all in a pile and expect it to work.

Blood needs numerous organs (workers) to maintain itself that can’t easily be reproduced artificially.

It needs to be kept clean (kidneys, spleen) kept sterile (the immune system) and requires a careful balance of chemicals to stay viable (brain, liver, glands etc.).

You can’t really reproduce this in the lab very easily.

So there’s probably two main ways to attempt it:

1. Make the components separately and mix them together when needed

2. Produce the tissues needed in the lab and kind of create a pseudo human body with only the essentials for blood production and maintenance

Evidently neither of these are simple tasks.

So in our analogy you would need to either assemble all the parts of a garden separately then put them all together perfectly in one go or replace the workers with complex drones.

It’s not impossible but it’s not straightforward. Hopefully it will be cracked in the next decade but who knows.

It’s worth reading into in more detail rather than an ELI5 if you are interested because it is fascinating.

Red blood cells are produced in the Bone marrow. If we could make an artificial bone marrow, we could probably do that. But it’s way less efficient than just taking donated blood, since healthy people’s blood gets replenished as time passes.

So it would be a waste of Time and resources developing an artificial blood source for this purpose. There are more than enough blood donors to go around and it’s not really that much of a problem for the donors as much as it is a life saving thing for people who need surgery or a blood transfusion.