The world has relied on the need for blood donations to perform different kinds of medical procedures on a human body. But how does one depend on something there is a severe shortage of?
With about 35% of its population above the age of 65, Japan heads a list of countries with a population problem. According to a forecast, their population will fall by as much as 83 million by 2100. A shrinking population, among other things, also means an ever-decreasing number of blood donors in the country. The solution might lie in an alternative that a Japanese startup is working on - creating huge amounts of blood in vitro.
Genjiro Miwa, the president of Megakaryon, the startup in question, might have got a breakthrough by producing platelets in vitro from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. An opaque-clear liquid that can perhaps be the alternative to blood donations in the future.
Miwa got the idea of manufacturing artificial blood back in 2008, incidentally enough, at a school reunion when he met childhood friend Hiromistu Nakauchi. Nakauchi, at that point of time, was working on producing platelets from iPS cells along with Koji Eto, a professor at Kyoto University's Center for iPS Cell Research and Application. Nakauchi apparently told Miwa about the need for commercialising their research - Japan could really be lagging behind the rest of the world in the technology which is why it became imperative that they brought someone from the business world on board and Miwa was the man for the job. With the support and connections of another classmate of theirs, Kazuo Matsunaga who was the vice-president of the economy, trade and industry at that point of time, Megakaryon got funding from the Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, a public-private partnership that promotes innovative businesses. In 2011, their company Megakaryon was officially launched.
The idea, no matter how novel it is, only works when it can provide a solution for the masses. Which is an issue right now because the company can only make a few units of this artificial blood every two weeks. Japan alone requires 800,000 units annually. To make it happen, Megakaryon is working with Japanese drugmakers and manufacturers of materials to create a mass-production system. They aim to start the in vitro production of blood for the masses by 2020. The artificial blood, Miwa believes, will be great for both developing and developed nations as it reduces the risk of spreading infections in places where a proper blood donation and screening system are yet to be established. It will also keep a check on the illegal trading of blood that's become a menace, especially in developing countries.
Scientists and researchers from around the world are being inspired by Japan's research in regenerative medication. In fact, Nikkei.com also reports that Megakaryon has already agreed for a joint research with the Harvard University about the topic.