Scientists from NHS Blood and Transplant and the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford led by Prof Dave Anstee and Dr Ashley Toye have produced synthetic blood from stem cells taken from adult and umbilical cord blood.
According to Dr Nick Watkins, NHS Blood and Transplant Assistant Director of Research and Development, the NHS is confident that their team will be able to carry out the first phase clinical trials by 2017. In this trial, 20 healthy volunteers will receive five to 10 millilitres of synthetic blood. The results will be compared to those who received donated blood.
This is the first of its kind trial in the world and will involve small quantity transfusions to check for adverse reactions. Scientists will study the duration of synthetic red blood cell survival in human recipients. Dr Watkins said that the aim is to "compare manufactured cells with donated blood."
The intention of lab producing red blood cells
is to make up for the deficit in human blood donations. The NHS found a 40% decrease in voluntary blood donations in 2014 as compared to a decade ago. Lab blood will enable people with complex blood types and chronic blood disorders like thalassemia and sickle cell anemia to get blood transfusions on time. Lab blood will also enable emergency blood transfusions without the hassles of finding donors and sufficient blood supply.
According to Dr Nick Watkins, "continued investment in research and development is critical to our role in saving and improving lives through blood and organ donation."
Tests have indicated that the lab-produced red blood cells match up to the ordinary red blood cells made in the body of healthy people. The advantage of lab-produced red blood cells is the elimination of risks from human infections like HIV and hepatitis
If the trials are successful, synthetic blood transfusions may well become a routine for people who need regular and lifelong blood transfusions and for those who are unable to find suitable donors and matches.