“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, NHS Blood and Transplant Director.
It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. Making artificial blood?
Around 108 million units of donated blood are collected globally every year. Nearly 50% of these blood donations are collected in high-income countries, home to less than 20% of the world’s population.
However, specialists have been trying to develop artificial blood for some time to treat patients with specific needs
For the National Health Service, maintaining UK blood supplies is also high on the agenda, as it has been struggling to meet demands of blood after a decline in blood donations. Now artificial blood can provide a permanent solution to the problem.
In fact, the health service says we may only be two years away from seeing the world’s first artificial transfusions, which could potentially revolutionize treatment for seriously ill people with complex blood types.
Specialists from NHS Blood and Transplant will work with scientists from the Universities of Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge to fabricate lab-produced red blood cells using stem cells from adult and umbilical cord blood.
The manufactured cells will then be transfused into 20 volunteers, who will be given between 5 and 10 milliliters of artificial blood. The results will then be compared transfusions via normal donations.
With the demand for blood donations going up and the number of new blood donors declining, the NHS is taking proactive steps to maintain supply and keep the price of blood as low as possible.
Another advantage of artificial blood, doctors can better match transfusions for patients with difficult conditions like sickle cell anaemia, who require regular blood transfusions and rely on blood from compatible donors.
“We are confident that by 2017 our team will be ready to carry out the first early phase clinical trials in human volunteers.” It might sound like something out of Tru Blood, but artificial blood is real and it could change the outcomes of sick people all over the world.
Learn more about blood transfusion on this WHO site: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/blood_transfusion/en/#