Artificial Blood to be Used in NHS Trials
The NHS hopes to conduct human trials using “artificial blood” within the next two years. The blood is being created in laboratories, primarily for the purpose of treating people with rare blood types and conditions, who need regular transfusions.
The blood is made using stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood that has been donated by pregnant women. These cells are then grown in a solution in the laboratory, and manipulated so that they develop into mature, functioning blood cells. Each stem cell can create 10,000 red blood cells. So far, tests have demonstrated that these manufactured red blood cells compare well to ordinary red blood cells, although they are not identical.
The clinical trials, which should take place in 2017, are part of a five-year research programme in manufactured red blood cells involving scientists from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Bristol. Initially, volunteers will be given a few teaspoons of the artificial blood to test for any adverse reactions, and to see how long the blood cells survive in the human body.
If the trials are successful, the hope is that the blood can be specially manufactured to treat patients with complex blood types and blood conditions, such as sickle-cell anaemia and thalassemia. The more long-term goal is for the NHS to eventually be able to make unlimited quantities of red blood cells for emergency transfusions.
“Scientists across the globe have been investigating for a number of years how to manufacture red blood cells to offer an alternative to donated blood to treat patients,” says Dr Nick Watkins, assistant director of research and development at NHS Blood and Transplant. “We are confident that by 2017, our team will be ready to carry out the first early-phase clinical trials in human volunteers. These trials will compare manufactured cells with donated blood. The intention is not to replace blood donation but provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups.”
If successful, the creation of artificial blood could have a major impact on patients who currently depend on rare donors, at a time when the number of blood donations is steadily declining.