Monday, 27 May, 2024
HomeEditor's PickLab-grown blood administered to people in world-first clinical trial

Lab-grown blood administered to people in world-first clinical trial

Laboratory-grown blood has been put into people in a world-first clinical trial, with tiny amounts – equivalent to a couple of spoonfuls – being tested to see how it performs inside the body.

Although most blood transfusions will always rely on people regularly donating, the ultimate goal is to manufacture vital, but ultra-rare, blood groups that are hard to obtain, reports BBC News.

These are necessary for people who depend on regular blood transfusions for conditions like sickle cell anaemia. If the blood is not a precise match then the body starts to reject it and the treatment fails. This level of tissue-matching goes beyond the well-known A, B, AB and O blood groups.

Professor Ashley Toye, from the University of Bristol, said some groups were “really, really rare and there might only be 10 people in the country” able to donate.

Currently, there are just three units of the “Bombay” blood group – first identified in India – in stock across the whole of the UK.

So how is the blood grown?

The research project combines teams in Bristol, Cambridge, London and at NHS Blood and Transplant. It focuses on the red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

This is how it works:
• They start with a normal donation of a pint of blood (around 470ml)
• Magnetic beads are used to fish out flexible stem cells that are capable of becoming a red blood cell
• These stem cells are encouraged to grow in large numbers in the labs
• They are then guided to become red blood cells

The process takes about three weeks and an initial pool of around half a million stem cells results in 50bn red blood cells.

These are filtered down to get around 15bn red blood cells that are at the right stage of development to transplant.

“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,” said Toye.

The first two people have taken part in the trial, which aims to test the blood in at least 10 healthy volunteers. They will get two donations of 5lm-10ml at least four months apart – one of normal blood and one of lab-grown blood.

The blood has been tagged with a radioactive substance, often used in medical procedures, so scientists can see how long it lasts in the body.

It is hoped the lab-grown blood will be more potent than normal.

Red blood cells normally last for around 120 days before needing to be replaced. A typical blood donation contains a mix of young and old red blood cells, whereas the lab-grown blood is all freshly made so should last the full 120 days. The researchers suspect this could allow both smaller and less frequent donations in the future.

However, there are considerable financial and technological challenges.
The average blood donation costs the NHS around £130. Growing blood will cost vastly more, although the team will not say how much.

Another challenge is the harvested stem cells eventually exhaust themselves, which limits the amount of blood that can be grown. It will take more research to produce the volumes that would be needed clinically.

Chief investigator Professor Cedric Ghevaert, professor in Transfusion Medicine and Consultant Haematologist at the University of Cambridge and NHSBT, said: “We hope our lab-grown red blood cells will last longer than those that come from blood donors. If our trial, the first such in the world, is successful, it will mean that patients who currently require regular long-term blood transfusions will need fewer transfusions in future, helping transform their care.”

Dr Farrukh Shah, the medical director of transfusion at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “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.

“The potential for this work to benefit hard-to-transfuse patients is very significant.”


BBC article – Lab-grown blood given to people in world-first clinical trial (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


When it comes to blood transfusions, 'fresh is not best'


UK to collect blood for trialling of convalescent plasma transfusions


Type A blood converted to universal donor with bacterial enzymes


NHS England to offer breakthrough treatment for sickle cell disease



MedicalBrief — our free weekly e-newsletter

We'd appreciate as much information as possible, however only an email address is required.