Synthetic blood that’s been produced in the lab using umbilical cord stem cells and donated blood looks so good, a world-first human trial has been approved for 2017. Volunteers will receive transfusions of just a few teaspoons of the synthetic blood to test for adverse effects as it circulates the body. If the manufactured blood cells can avoid triggering the body’s immune response, they could be a huge help for specialised treatments right away, and could be stockpiled for emergency transfusions in years to come.
"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," one of the team, Nick Watkins from the US National Health Service's (NHS) Blood and Transplant unit, said to James O Malley at Gizmodo. "We are confident that by 2017 our team will be ready to carry out the first early phase clinical trials in human volunteers."
The blood cells come in two different types - those cultured from the stem cells of discarded umbilical cords, and those made from the stem cells of adult blood cells. So far, lab tests have shown that both compare well to ordinary red blood cells that are produced by healthy people, Watkins telling Steve Connor at The Independent that they are "comparable, if not identical, to the cells from a donor".
The blood cells come in two different types - those manufactured from the stem cells of discarded umbilical cords, and those made from the stem cells of adult blood cells. The team will first transfuse the adult donor synthetic blood, seeing it’s more close to the real thing, and then will try the umbilical cord-derived cells if everything goes as planned.
The immediate plan will be to use the synthetic blood cells to treat people with conditions such as sickle-cell anaemia, who rely on a constant supply of new blood to survive. The blood will also hopefully be useful in situations where people with a rare blood type need an emergency transfusion.
But this doesn’t get any of us off the hook - blood donations are still needed now more than ever, as this awesome new initiative in Sweden is currenty addressing.
"The intention is not to replace blood donation but to provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups," Watkins told The Independent.
With how fast time goes by these days, it'll feel like next week when we're reporting on the results. See you then!