Synthetic blood that’s been created in a lab using umbilical cord stem cells and donated blood looks so good, the world-first human trial has been approved for 2017. Volunteers will receive transfusions of just a few teaspoons of the synthetic blood to check for adverse effects as it circulates the body. If the manufactured blood cells can avoid triggering the body’s immune response, they might be a huge help for specialised treatments straight away, and could be stockpiled for emergency transfusions in future years.
“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 this 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 prepared to carry out the first early phase clinical trials in human volunteers.”
These blood cells come in two different types – those created from the stem cells of discarded umbilical cords, and those created from the stem cells of adult blood cells. So far, lab tests have probed that both compare well to ordinary red blood cells that are made by healthy people, Watkins telling Steve Conner at the Independent that they are “comparable, if not identical, to cells from a donor”.
The team will initially transfuse the adult donor synthetic blood, seeing as it’s closer to the real thing, and then after they will try the umbilical cord-derived cells if everything goes as predicted.
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 continuous supply of new blood to live. The blood will also hopefully be useful in circumstances 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 vitally needed now more than ever, as this awesome new Swedish group is 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!