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UK plans world's first artificial blood transfusions by 2017

Matt Brian, @m4tt
June 25, 2015
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To better treat specialist patients, scientists have experimented with lab-grown organs and cells for some time. For the NHS, maintaining UK blood supplies is also high on the agenda, so it's been working to offset the fall in donations by growing its own. 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 create 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. With artificial blood, the team can better match transfusions for patients with conditions like sickle cell anaemia, who require regular transfusions and rely on blood from compatible donors.

"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. "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.

[Image credit: Christopher Paul, Flickr]

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