Taiga Biotechnologies is currently developing technologies to meet the challenges of generating red blood cells (RBCs) for clinical applications. Using its proprietary hematopoetic stem cell technology the company has adapted culture conditions to generate functional RBCs in a simple two-step process without the need for viruses, animal serum, or animal “feeder” cells. Taiga believes its approach has the potential to provide a supply of RBCs that is safe, effective and universally applicable to all patients requiring RBC transfusion.
Red blood cell (RBC) transfusion is routinely used for many clinical and surgical applications. On average, 39,000 units of blood are needed every day and data from 2004 indicate that 29 million units of blood were transfused in one year (source http://www.aabb.com). This procedure has singe-handedly saved many lives over the past 60 years, and demand continues to increase with advances in medical treatments and an aging population.
In spite of the wide range of clinical applications that have benefited from RBC transfusion, the supply has steadily decreased for three main reasons. First, the number of infectious agents that have been shown to be transmitted through blood transfusions have continuously increased, forcing more extensive testing of the donated supply to prevent iatrogenic infections. Second, the chronic use of Erythropoeitin (Epo) has recently been associated with increased risk of developing erythroid leukemias, embolisms as well as cardiac complications. Third, the performance of stabilized and recombinant hemoglobins and oxygen transporters (perflourocarbons) has been disappointing and these approaches will have to overcome important development hurdles before replacing RBC transfusions in the clinic.
Taiga is developing a novel method that uses its conditionally-transformed long-term repopulating hematopoietic stem cells as the source of a continuous and defined supply for the production of RBCs. This technology can either provide mature RBCs for immediate transfusion or RBC progenitors for transfer and short-term reconstitution of the RBC compartment in patients. Furthermore, the enucleation of mature RBCs should alleviate concerns of any genetic modification. One of the company’s ultimate goals for this project is to engineer a RBC product having a sufficiently longer shelf life to enable its distant transport to patients who don’t have access to RBC therapy currently. Ready access to a continuous supply of RBC progenitors that could generate a defined RBC product for transfusion would alter clinical practice and render blood transfusion a safer and more extensively used procedure.