For the very first time in a breakthrough clinical trial, the blood grown in a lab was transfused into humans. Researchers from the United Kingdom said that it could prove to be a significant improvement in treatment for patients with blood ailments and those with rare blood types.
Tiny doses of the blood were received by two patients in the U.K in the primary stage of a broader trial that was made to evaluate how the blood behaves once inside the body.
The trial will be extended over a course of a few months and will include ten patients in total. It aims to check the lifecycle of cells grown in a lab in comparison with normal red blood cells.
According to the researchers, the aim is not to replace the normal red blood cells, but to use the technology to develop the rare blood types which are very hard to find but are extremely important for patients who depend on transfusions for diseases like sickle cell anemia.
Dr. Farrukh Shah, NHS Blood and Transplant’s medical director of Transfusion as well as a collaborator on the project 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 need for normal blood donations to provide the vast majority of blood will remain. But the potential for this work to benefit hard to transfuse patients is very significant”
The research was conducted in London, Bristol, and Cambridge and is aimed at red blood cells which transport blood from the lungs to the rest of the body. Primarily, a regular blood donation was taken and flexible stem cells were detected using magnetic beads to check the capability of becoming red blood cells.
The stem cells were put in a nutrient solution in a lab where over a period of three weeks, the solution prompted the cells to develop and multiply. Following that, they were purified using a filter and stored to be transfused later when needed. The blood was marked using a radioactive substance that is often used in such medical procedures for monitoring purposes.
The process will be used in the trial for ten volunteers. 5 to 10 mls will be injected two times over a period of four months, one of lab blood and one of normal blood for lifespan comparison purposes.
Researchers are hopeful that a greater lifespan of the lab-grown blood could mean that the transfusions required over time would be reduced. Blood donations generally contain young red blood cells as well as old red blood cells which means the lifespan is unpredictable. However, the lab-grown blood is entirely fresh. There are still substantial costs surrounding the technology.
According to NHS Blood and Transplant, an average blood donation costs them about £145, and the lab-grown blood will probably be higher than that. No figure was quoted by NHS, but it did say that costs would be reduced over time as the technology scales up.