True Blood redux – artificial blood to be manufactured in factories

A few months ago we were telling you about the researchers from Transylvania, Romania, who developed artificial blood. Now, the production of blood on an industrial scale could become a reality as other researchers found a way to develop artificial blood from patients’ stem cells.

Photo: Alamy

Marc Turner, the principal researcher in the £5 million programme funded by the Wellcome Trust announced that his team had made red blood cells which are fit for human transfusion, and they will soon begin human trials. If everything goes fine in the human trials, they will soon start the mass production.

“Although similar research has been conducted elsewhere, this is the first time anybody has manufactured blood to the appropriate quality and safety standards for transfusion into a human being,” said Prof Turner.

The trials are to be concluded in late 2016 or early 2017, and will most likely involve the treatment of three patients with Thalassaemia – a rare blood disorder which requires regular transfusions. The patients will be treated with the newly produced blood and their evolution will be constantly monitored.

“The cells will be safe,” he said, adding that there are processes whereby cells can be removed.

If this project comes to fruition safely, then we could see the dawn of a new age in blood transfusions – with virtually limitless supplies of blood, which can save countless lives. They will focus on type O blood, which is universally accepted by all people.

“Although blood banks are well-stocked in the UK and transfusion has been largely safe since the Hepatitis B and HIV infections of the 1970s and 1980s, many parts of the world still have problems with transfusing blood,” said Prof Turner.

Economically, this is very feasible. The total costs, in the UK for a pint of blood transfusion is £120 ($200). With this method, the costs would be reduced significantly. Still, there are some technological hurdles which will have to be surpassed, but so far, things are sailing pretty smoothly.

Dr Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust, said:

“One should not underestimate the challenge of translating the science into routine procedures for the clinic. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the challenge Professor Turner and colleagues have set out to address, which is to replace the human blood donor as the source of supply for life-saving transfusions.”

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