Lab-grown blood transfused into humans in world’s first clinical trial
Lab-grown blood has been transfused into humans for the first time in a landmark clinical trial.
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LONDON – Lab-grown blood has been transfused into humans for the first time in a landmark clinical trial that British researchers say could significantly improve treatment for people with blood disorders and rare blood types.
Two patients in the UK received small doses – the equivalent of a few teaspoons – of lab-grown blood in the first phase of a wider trial designed to see how it behaves in the body.
The trial, which will now be expanded to include 10 patients over several months, aims to study the lifespan of lab-grown cells compared to infusions of standard red blood cells.
The researchers say the goal is not to replace regular donations of human blood, which will still make up the majority of transfusions. But the technology could allow scientists to produce very rare blood types that are hard to come by but vital for people who depend on regular blood transfusions for conditions such as sickle cell disease.
“This world-leading research lays the groundwork for producing red blood cells that can be safely used to transfuse people with disorders such as sickle cell,” said Dr. Farrukh Shah, medical director of transfusion for NHS Blood and Transplant, one of the collaborators on the project.
“The need for normal blood donation to provide the vast majority of blood will remain. But the potential for this work to benefit difficult-to-transfuse patients is very significant,” she added.
The research, carried out by researchers in Bristol, Cambridge and London, as well as NHS Blood and Transplant, focuses on the red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
At first, regular blood donations were taken and magnetic beads were used to detect flexible stem cells capable of becoming red blood cells.
Those stems were then placed in a nutrient solution in the laboratory. Over about three weeks, the solution encouraged those cells to multiply and develop into more mature cells.
The cells were then purified using a standard filter – the same type of filter used when regular blood donations are processed to remove white blood cells – before being stored and later transfused into patients.
For testing, lab-grown blood is labeled with a radioactive substance, often used in medical procedures, to monitor how long it lasts in the body.
The same process will now be applied to a trial of 10 volunteers, each of whom will receive two 5-10ml donations at least four months apart – one normal blood and one lab-grown blood – to compare the lifespan of the cells.
It is also hoped that the longer lifespan of lab-grown cells could mean that patients need fewer transfusions over time.
A typical blood donation contains a mixture of young and old red blood cells, which means that their lifespan can be unpredictable and suboptimal. Meanwhile, lab-grown blood is fresh, meaning it should last the 120 days expected of red blood cells.
However, there are significant costs currently associated with the technology.
The average blood donation currently costs the NHS around £145, according to NHS Blood and Transplant. Lab-grown replacements would likely be more expensive.
NHS Blood and Transplant said it still had “no figures” for the procedure, but added that costs would come down as the technology improved.
“If the trial is successful and the research is successful, then it could be introduced in large quantities in the coming years, which means the costs will come down,” the spokesperson told CNBC.
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