Scientists to begin manufacturing artificial blood

The new manufactured blood could help allieviate critically low blood supplies. Image courtesy of NHS Blood and Transplant
The new manufactured blood could help allieviate critically low blood supplies. Image courtesy of NHS Blood and Transplant

Researchers from Bristol University in the UK have announced plans to begin testing artificial blood.

Human trials of lab-manufactured red blood cells will begin in 2017 on a group of 20 volunteers. Up until now this technology had only been tested on rats.

Developed in association with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), the artificial blood is made using stem cells harvested from adult and umbilical cord blood in order to create a small amount of artificial red blood cells.

“Scientists across the globe have been investigating for a number of years how to manufacture red blood cells […] We are confident that by 2017 our team will be ready to carry out the first early phase clinical trials in human volunteers,” said Dr Nick Watkins, NHSBT Assistant Director of R&D.

The trial itself will begin with the transfusion of small amounts of 5 to 10mL of the artificial blood, in order to investigate how these red blood cells survive when compared to a standard transfusion.

While this technology, if successful, could be an eventual replacement for donated blood, the researchers are currently focused on a more niche group of patients with rare blood disorders.

“There are a small number of patients with complex blood disorders for who NHSBT sometimes finds it difficult to find matched blood. We hope to enable NHSBT to provide these patients with an alternative compatible blood product in the future,” said Dr Ashley Toye from Bristol’s School of Biochemistry.

Over the next five years NHSBT has set ambitious goals to bring this blood-manufacturing technology to the mainstream market. In order to do this, they are working to create three NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Units with £12.1 million of UK government funding.

Blood donation crisis

This new development in the quest for an alternative to donated blood comes at a critical time for the health community.

Rates of blood donation have seen precipitous drops over the last decade, and doctors are in search of a more reliable alternative to avoid shortages.

Manufactured blood technology could be one way of alleviating this problem, should the proposed trials prove to be successful.