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NHS to trial plans to treat patients using ‘artificial’ blood grown in the laboratory from donated stem cells

COLIN FERNANDEZ
taking blood samples
  • Scientists used stem cells in umbilical cords and adults to make the blood
  • It could help meet the need for rare types but donations will still be needed
  • The blood won’t be tainted with disease so future scandals can be avoided
  • Around 7,500 people were give HIV positive blood from LA before 1991

The NHS is to start using blood grown in the laboratory in trials on patients. Scientists have made it by using stem cells taken from umbilical cords and from adult donors. The ‘artificial’ blood will not do away with the need for donations.

Instead it will be used initially to treat people with rare blood types and conditions. The tests – to start in 2017 – will be carried out on healthy volunteers and involve only 5-10ml of blood.

Creating huge volumes of mass produced blood is still a distant prospect but would have the advantage of it not being tainted by diseases carried by living donors. Around 7,500 people, mainly haemophiliacs, received blood infected with hepatitis C or HIV before 1991 – when the NHS bought blood from ‘skid row’ donors in the US.

Dr Nick Watkins, assistant director of research and development at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: ‘Scientists across the globe have been investigating for a number of years how to manufacture red blood cells to offer an alternative to donated blood to treat patients.

‘We are confident that by 2017 our team will be ready to carry out the first early-phase clinical trials in human volunteers. ‘These trials will compare manufactured cells with donated blood. The intention is not to replace blood donation but provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups.’

Patients with complex blood types and blood conditions such as sickle cell anaemia, which affects 12,500 Britons, and thalassemia, which affects 1,000 more, will benefit if the trials are successful.

WHO CAN DONATE?
People are banned from donating blood for four years after having tattoos or piercings. Also banned are donors weighing more than 25 stone because they are too big for clinic chairs.

Blood is 7 per cent of our body weight. The first successful blood transplant was carried out in 1665 – on dogs.

The first successful human transfusion was in 1818 by British doctor James Blundell. Transfusion patients kept dying until blood groups were discovered.

The most common blood group is O+ with 38 per cent of the population, followed by A+ at 33 per cent. The rarest commonly found group is AB– shared by just 1 per cent of us.

Patients with these conditions need regular blood transfusions throughout their lives and visit a clinic up to three times a week. Blood donor numbers have fallen by around 40 per cent over the past decade. Last year 1.7million donations were made. A volunteer typically gives a ‘unit’ or pint of blood – 470ml – and the average hospital gets through 6,000 units a week.

As well as the major blood groups, there are up to 300 minor blood variants which are important for patients who need transfusions regularly for life and who the new approach will help. Some of these patients currently depend on rare donors from national or international registries.

The artificial blood is made from stem cells grown in a solution for three weeks and then induced to make red blood cells. Each stem cell can create 10,000 red blood cells. George Freeman, minister for life sciences, said: ‘These exciting and pioneering developments demonstrate the world-leading research being done by our NHS.

‘We are now working on an ambitious programme to further improve our work with donors and patients. ‘Funding will ensure we can build on world-class research in transfusion and transplantation for patient benefit.’

Published: 25 June 2015. By COLIN FERNANDEZ
Copyright © Associated Newspapers Ltd

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