In a world-beating medical breakthrough, Hamilton researchers have created human blood directly from adult skin cells.

Efficient enough to produce usable amounts of blood for transfusions, the technique also opens the possibility of creating other transplant tissues without the arduous and time-consuming step of making embryonic stem cells first.

“We have taken very young patients’ skin cells and patients as old as 80,” says Mick Bhatia, director of McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute. “And we can convert the cells always to blood.”

The new discovery holds out hope for all kinds of transfusion advancements, especially for cancer patients whose blood systems are often badly compromised by chemotherapy.

The finding, released yesterday by the journal Nature, could also help stock overburdened blood banks. While the technique is not yet producing blood for clinical use, calculations show that, even in the worst cases, it could create enough for successful transfusions.