UK clinical trials transfuse two people using blood produced in a lab

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,711   +1,162
Staff member
Why it matters: Hospitals have a constant need for donated blood. Approximately 30,000 units per day are used to treat accident victims and people with blood ailments like sickle cell anemia. Hospitals often suffer shortages when they receive a high number of trauma patients. But what if we could duplicate a typical donation in a lab and give it a longer shelf life?

National Health Service (NHS) scientists in the United Kingdom, with help from Bristol and Cambridge universities, have successfully transfused two humans with blood grown in a lab. The BBC notes that this world's first is part of a continuing study to determine how lab-grown blood performs in the body.

As of Monday's announcement, both subjects have had no ill effects. It is worth noting that for safety, only a small amount of blood is transfused in these trials (about one or two teaspoons). The testing will continue with eight more healthy volunteers.

The synthesized blood cells are produced by isolating stem cells in a regular pint of blood using magnetic beads. The scientists "guide" a sample of about 500,000 stem cells to produce 50 billion red blood cells. That sample is then filtered to harvest only the ones suitable for transfusing (about 15 billion cells).

The scientists hope to accomplish a couple of things. The main goal is to have the ability the synthesize and supplement hospitals, clinics, and blood banks with usable rare blood types. Type AB-negative is the rarest ABO type, with only one percent of the population having it. More importantly, people with O-negative are known as universal donors because their blood is compatible with all types. However, only seven percent of the population has O-negative, so it is in high demand.

There are even rarer types, such as Hh, also known as the Bombay blood group. This type only occurs in 0.0004 percent of the world's population (0.01 percent in Mumbai, where it was discovered). Like O-negative, anyone can receive Hh without complications, but people in this group are not compatible with any ABO types, including the universal O-negative, and must receive Hh blood.

"We want to make as much blood as possible in the future, so the vision in my head is a room full of machines producing it continually from a normal blood donation," University of Bristol Professor Ashley Toye told the BBC.

A secondary goal of the study is to see if synthesized blood has a longer "lifespan." Our bodies continually produce red blood cells. Typically, each lasts about 120 days. However, the shelf life in a blood bank is far shorter because cells of varying ages are all mixed. The thought is that since lab-grown blood is uniformly "young," it should theoretically last the full 120 days before needing to be replaced.

To track this theory, the researchers inject subjects with a normal sample and and then a synthetic at least four months later. Each is tagged with a radioactive isotope so they can tell how long each cell circulates in the bloodstream. If correct, the lab-grown blood should remain in the test subject longer.

If the trials are successful, blood banks and hospitals should have far fewer shortages of needed blood types, but the technology does have a substantial cost. Regular donations cost around £130 ($150 US) to collect, bag, and store. Producing it in a lab is "vastly" more expensive, although the researchers were tight-lipped about precise figures.

There are also some limitations in how many stem cells clinicians can harvest. Regardless of the expense and obstacles, the researchers are optimistic about the benefits of their work.

"This world-leading research lays the groundwork for the manufacture of red blood cells that can safely be used to transfuse people with disorders like sickle cell," said NHS Blood and Transplant Medical Director of Transfusion Dr. Farrukh Shah. "The potential for this work to benefit hard to transfuse patients is very significant."

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Uncle Al

Posts: 9,363   +8,581
Like many things, the greater the use of the artificial blood the price will begin to fall to a more reasonable rate but that aside, this will be one for the history books. Eliminating people bleeding to death because of a lack of available blood will be as great a find as the "miracle drugs" of the 1930's. Now if they can engineer this blood to eliminate some of the negative factors such as sugar in blood for diabetics it will surely be a God send!


Posts: 888   +909
If the blood can be produced so that it does not have any the hundreds of antigenic determinants other than A, B or O and the Rh then the risk of transfusion reactions disappear. Imagine being a guy that works in Blood Bank (I did for 30+ years) and the call comes down for A Pos. All I gotta do is take it of the shelf and send it out once I know the recipients blood type. Saves time, saves the patient money (allegedly) and as long as I am paying attention they are good to go. It can take hours and hours to do a crossmatch when an unexpected antibody turns up. If I know the blood does not have the corresponding antigen...Whopeee


Posts: 18   +30
This is amazing, and it's really extraordinary really to think that you need donors to provide blood for medical procedures.

Hopefully in 15 years time, lab grown blood will be normal and we won't need so many donors.


Posts: 210   +156
Nanobots in the blood... press a button clots happen, heart attack, nobody is safe, assassination's from any place in the world at a click of a button


Posts: 691   +727
Hmmm there was a Book Series and HBO TV Show about this

The Southern Vampire Mysteries / True Blood


Posts: 394   +283
They say that women with blood group zero are obliged to give it to anyone who asks.

Philip BM

Posts: 6   +2
how about paying people more for blood so you don't have shortages?

It's illegal to receive payment for blood donation in the UK, it's purely voluntary. (To ensure that there is no incentive for people with diseases to waste government money by donating blood that can't be used.)

There isn't a lack of willing donors, there just aren't enough people with the necessary blood types. For example, 7% of the population may have O- blood, but they are only allowed to donate once every three months, and there are many reasons that people cannot donate, such as age, illness, pregnancy, occupation, religion, etc. So the actual percentage of available O- donors if you needed it today is more like 0.04%.