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In 2017, the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom will attempt the first synthetic blood transfusions on humans, as reported on Medical Daily. If the clinical trials are successful, it will be a major medical breakthrough in the area of blood transfusions.
Scientists at NHS and the University of Bristol have manufactured red blood cells using stem cells from the blood of adults and from umbilical cord blood, with the permission of the mothers. Lab tests to date have shown that these synthetic red blood cells are comparable, if not identical, to red blood cells from human donors.
Researchers hope that the synthetic blood will provide an alternative for people with blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia. These patients need regular transfusions, and compatible donors can be difficult to find.
For the clinical trials in 2017, 20 volunteers will receive a small transfusion (5 to 10 milliliters) of the manufactured blood and closely observed for any adverse reaction. The volunteers will first receive transfusions of blood manufactured from stem cells from blood of adult donors, and if all goes well, they will next be given transfusions of blood made from stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood.
Researchers will compare the survival of the manufactured red blood cells with blood donor red blood cells, as reported in an article on The Indian Panorama. It is not the intention of these scientists to replace blood donations, but rather to provide specialized treatment for certain groups of patients.
A more long term goal of the NHS research is to produce an unlimited supply of blood for blood banks, according to the article on Medical Daily. Currently, there is not enough blood to fill the need. Not everyone can donate blood. Blood Centers of the Pacific reports that only 37% of the population is eligible, and only 10% donate every year.
NHS scientists hope that, with synthetic blood, there will no longer be a shortage for patients who need transfusions. It is also hoped that the manufactured blood will help keep costs down. Furthermore, per an Independent article, there is no risk of transferring HIV, hepatitis, or other viruses with synthetic blood that has never been inside a human body.
The artificial blood breakthrough is only a part of NHS’s five-year research and development plan to advance blood transfusion, organ transplants, and regenerative medicine, per the Medical Daily article. According to the Independent, a parallel project involving the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and the Wellcome Trust is ongoing in Scotland.