Blood made entirely in a lab has been given to patients in a world-first clinical trial to see how it performs and whether the body reacts negatively. Creating synthetic blood is incredibly difficult and will likely not replace current blood donations, but could represent a turning point in the shortage of rare blood groups if trials are successful.
The blood was manufactured from stem cells taken from donors and transfused into patients in a randomized clinical trial called RESTORE. The RESTORE trials aim to help patients with blood disorders (such as sickle cell anemia) and with rare blood groups.
The current phase will analyze the lifespan of lab-grown blood cells compared to donor cells; it is expected that the freshly-grown cells will last longer than the donor cells. Red blood cells last around 120 days before they are replaced, which some donor cells do not manage – lab-grown cells may change that.
If successful, patients receiving the alternative blood will need transfusions less often, which is safer and leads to fewer complications. Only two patients have been transfused with the blood so far.
“This challenging and exciting trial is a huge stepping stone for manufacturing blood from stem cells. This is the first-time lab grown blood from an allogeneic donor has been transfused and we are excited to see how well the cells perform at the end of the clinical trial,” Professor Ashley Toye, Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Bristol and Director of the NIHR Blood and Transplant Unit in red cell products, said in a statement.
Current blood transfusions from a donor cost the UK's National Health Service (NHS) around £130 ($150) per transfusion, according to the BBC – and this is where manufactured blood may falter, as it will cost significantly more. As such, it will only be used by the NHS to tackle rare cases and people that are unlikely to get a donor match in a reasonable timeframe.
“It’s really fantastic that we are now able to grow enough red cells to medical grade to allow this trial to commence, we are really looking forward to seeing the results and whether they perform better than standard red cells,” said Dr Rebecca Cardigan, Head of Component Development at NHSBT.