In the world’s first clinical trial, lab-grown red blood cells have been transfused into humans.
If proven safe and effective, human blood cells could revolutionize the treatment of patients with blood disorders such as sickle cell and rare blood types.
For many people with these conditions, it can be difficult to find well-matched blood donations — and lab-grown red blood cells mean people who need regular transfusions may need less blood in the future.
“This challenging and exciting trial is a huge stepping stone in making blood from stem cells,” said Ashley Toye, director of the Blood and Transplantation Division for Red Blood Cell Products at NIHR.
“This is the first infusion of laboratory-grown blood from an allogeneic donor, and we are excited to see how these cells perform at the end of the clinical trial.”
The manufactured blood cells are grown from the donor’s stem cells and then transfused to volunteers in a recovery randomized controlled clinical trial.
It is studying the lifespan of cells grown in the lab compared to standard red blood cell transfusions from the same donor.
Because lab-grown blood cells are fresh, the researchers hope they will perform better than similar standard donated red blood cell transfusions.
Cedric Ghevaert, Professor of Transfusion Medicine and Consultant Hematologist, University of Cambridge NHS Blood and Transplantation (NHSBT) said: “If our trial is the first of its kind in the world to be successful, it will mean that patients who currently require regular long-term blood transfusions will need fewer blood transfusions in the future, helping to change their care. “
So far, two people have received lab-grown red blood cells without any adverse side effects.
The amount of laboratory cultured cells injected varies, but is about 5-10 ml – about one to two teaspoons.
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Blood donors at the NHSBT Donor Base donated blood for the trial and stem cells were isolated.
These stem cells are then grown in laboratories at NHSBT’s Advanced Therapeutics Unit in Bristol to produce red blood cells.
At least 10 people will receive two small blood transfusions, one with standard donated red blood cells and one with lab-grown red blood cells, at least four months apart.
This will allow scientists to determine whether young red blood cells made in the lab last longer than cells made in the body.
Further trials are needed before clinical use, but scientists say the study marks a major step toward improving treatment for patients with rare blood types or complex transfusion needs.