Artificial blood could be running through your veins within two years, says NHS
Blood stocks are running low and donation rates aren’t showing any signs of improving, despite some interesting innovations. If the blood supply continues to dwindle, what are the alternatives? One option is synthetic blood – and the UK’s NHS will begin voluntary trials in humans within the next two years.
To ensure the process runs smoothly and to monitor possible reactions, volunteers will receive only a few teaspoons of synthetic blood, after which scientists will assess how long the artificial blood lasts inside the body.
Initially, the red blood cells will be manufactured from stem cells of adult donors, but should this prove successful, the practice will be extended to include stem cells from the umbilical cords of consenting mothers. “They’re comparable, if not identical, to the cells from a donor,” Doctor Nick Watkins, assistant director of research and development at NHS Blood and Transplant told The Independent.
In the short term, the plan is just to manufacturer synthetic blood for conditions such as sickle-cell anaemia and thalassaemia; in the long run, the goal is to bring an end to the blood-supply issue.
Although this is the first trial of this type, similar tests have been conducted with decent results. Blood created from bovine haemoglobin has been approved for humans in South Africa, while red blood cells grown in lab conditions were successfully transfused into human volunteers in France in 2011, without any side effects.
As is often the case with stem-cell medicine, scale is likely to be a problem. Even in cases where embryonic stem cells have been used, the quantities of blood generated were still too low for widespread use. If this can be overcome, however, the never-ending treadmill of donations to keep blood stocks at a level high enough to deal with sudden demand could finally be dealt with – especially if rarer blood groups can be easily replicated.