The project, called EVIDENCE, is headed by Professor Dr. Lars Kaestner of Saarland University (Germany) and developed together with partners from France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Great Britain. The European Union supports the initiative through a grant of €4 million that the experts will use to gain a better understanding of the red blood cells and to learn more about how they are influenced by their extra-cellular environment.
Within the EU Project EVIDENCE, the experts will use mathematical models to better understand how blood flows in the body, which could serve as a basis for many more research projects and experimental studies of blood flow and could particularly be useful to have a greater insight into the behaviour of red blood cells.
Specific goals of this collaborative research programme include the development of novel diagnostic techniques for rare anaemic disorders such as those similar to sickle cell anaemia, developing an artificial, lab-scale spleen and methods for producing red blood cells in the laboratory.
“That particular sub-project is important for the transfusion sector”, states Kaestner, the head of the project, who points out that “While the technology already exists to produce artificial blood, a single batch can cost several hundred thousand Euros. For this, improving the production process and, thus, making the manufacture of blood substitutes more cost-effective, could generate significant benefits, as it would complement natural sources of blood and would allow the artificial blood substitutes to be tailored for complex medical conditions”.
Red blood cells (erythrocytes) are the pack animals of the human circulatory system. They transport oxygen to the places in the body where it’s needed: to the cells that make up our muscles and organs. They also carry away the waste product carbon dioxide. But if the number of red blood cells is too high or too low, if the cells are not able to flow properly, if they become deformed or their function is somehow impaired, a whole range of health problems and diseases can result.
Therefore, it’s fundamentally important that we understand how erythrocytes behave in the body’s circulatory system. However, until now, experimental configurations have only been partially successful in reproducing the in vivo environment, since they have not been able to reproduce the flow conditions found in the body due to the blood is hardly ever flowing while the experts perform medical diagnostics in test in tubes or on microscope slides.
In fact, some of the erythrocytes that are being examined under those conditions are already dead, which is preventing the scientists from achieving a really understanding of these cells. As a result, a lot of the information that could probably be obtained if blood was examined under realistic conditions is therefore lost to the scientific community.
Nevertheless, substantial progress has been made in just the last 20 to 30 years. Thanks to this, today it is possible to examine things in detail and to measure individual red blood cells, and the partners of EVIDENCE will work together during the following years to even further increase the knowledge on this to make our lives easier.