Artificial Blood: Coming To A Hospital Near You?

By Stephen Cass | September 22, 2008 3:08 pm

Screencapture from faux documentary promoting True BloodThe theme of HBO’s new series, TrueBlood, is based on a Japanese scientist’s invention of synthetic blood. The breakthrough allows vampires to “come out of the coffin” and progress from freakish villains to fellow citizens. (Just stop into a local TrueBlood bank for a snack, and humans are off the menu.)

Similar bloody ideas have surfaced before-you may remember a literal bloodbath on last year’s third episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Cromartie, a damaged terminator on a mission to do what terminators do best, finds a scientist who is working on a formula for in vitro skin growth. He offers the scientist a formula for ridiculously fast-growing flesh in exchange for help growing skin to cover his robotic body. At the end of the episode, a gruesome Cromartie rises from a blood-filled bathtub, his body covered in a disgusting layer of drippy synthetic skin.

Artificial blood exists in the real world, but not without its problems. Natural blood has many components (red blood cells for oxygen, platelets for clotting, white blood cells for the immune system, and plasma protein). Artificial blood is designed for one main purpose: to carry oxygen and carbon dioxide. In April of 2008, a team of researchers found that blood substitutes boosted chances of dying by 30% and nearly tripled the risk for heart attacks. Understandably, no products have been approved for general use in the US or Europe.

Artificial skin exists too. Researchers in Leipzig, Germany grew skin by plucking a few hairs off the back of a patient’s head, and extracting adult stem cells from their roots. The cells multiply in a culture for about two weeks, then the nutrient solution is reduced until it no longer covers the upper sides of the cells, which exposes them to air. The increased pressure exerted by the oxygen on the surface of cells causes them to differentiate into skin cells. Impressive, though not as magically fast as Cromatie’s formula. Biotech companies are also creating products like Apligraf, a skin repair therapy for sores and ulcers. It has layers of cells like normal skin, but no sweat glands or hair follicles.

One tasty side note: People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) hopes to put artificial tissue on the menu (literally), by 2012. They’re offering a $1 million prize for the person to make the first in vitro chicken meat and sell it to the public. The real question is, will people eat it? The thought of chowing down on a Petri dish of synthetically grown rabbit leg isn’t exactly appetizing to everyone. But the right packaging (pretty much anything looks good in burger form) might do the trick, and save billions of animal lives.

— Amy Barth


Comments (7)

  1. Why stop with synthetic chicken? Why not a synthetic human steak? You could even offer a service where gourmets could specify from which human the steak should be. A close relative? Maybe a dead relative? Or a celebrity? An enemy?

    James King did a critical design project about a victimless meat scenario:

    Check out also some related Projects by Dunne and Raby:

  2. Elmar_M

    Well, have you checked the vegan section at your local supermarket lately? At least here you get all sorts of meat replacement products. These are usually based on plant protein that have been treated and pressed into shape, added some artifical flavors and stabilizers etc to make them more “meaty”. So this is nothing special. The problem is that the stuff still does not taste quite right and does not work quite right, but to me it is all the same difference. Both are basically coming from a petry dish. I do think that in a few decades when worlds overpopulation is causing food prices to sky rocket further, people will be eating mostly meat substitutes and only rich ones will be able to afford real meat. The meat of the future will be produced by bacteria that has been genetically altered to produce the basic building blocks for meat replacements in large fermentation tanks (basically bacteria shit). This will then be processed to match real meat in form and shape, just like they are already doing with these soy based vegan meat replacement products.

  3. Gary_M

    I am all for artificial meat. I think that once the kinks are worked out it will be the health conscience choice. Think about, no longer will you be worries about what the farmer fed the cow before it became your steak. Can you say “Mad Cow” how about “Antibiotic Resistance”? Frankly I think that the public will ultimately accept this if not outright embrace it.

  4. Moledaddy

    So… do any of you think that by us humans trying to actually create animals and even humans from anything other than the original way God intended it to be done, is (trying) to play God? I respect all peoples beliefs and way of life. Even if I don’t agree with them all. But that’s ok to be able to agree to disagree and be adults about things. BUt I was just curious about some other peoples thoughts on that.

  5. True blood will go down as one of HBOs best series by far. A lot of folks wont agree with me but its true. It is catching on fast and I am definitely a big fan.


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