(CTN News) – For the first time, laboratory Blood Grown has been transfused into humans in a landmark clinical trial that British scientists believe could have a significant impact on treating people with blood disorders and rare blood types.
A total of two patients in the United Kingdom were given tiny doses – equivalent to a few teaspoons – of lab-grown blood in the first stage of a larger clinical trial.
In the ongoing trial, which will now include 10 patients over several months, the aim is to compare the lifespan of lab-grown cells with that of infusions of standard red blood cells.
It is not intended to replace regular human blood donations, which will continue to make up the majority of transfusions, according to researchers.
As a result of this technology, scientists may be able to manufacture very rare blood types that are difficult to obtain. However, these blood types are vital for patients with conditions such as sickle cell anemia who rely on regular blood transfusions.
According to Dr. Farrukh Shah, medical director of Transfusion at NHS Blood and Transplant, one of the collaborators on the project, “This research lays the groundwork for the manufacture of red blood cells that can be safely used to transfuse people with illnesses such as sickle cell.”
“The vast majority of blood will continue to be provided by normal blood donations. This work has the potential to benefit transfusion-resistant patients in a significant manner,” she explained.
How does the technology work?
Scientists from Bristol, Cambridge, and London, as well as NHS Blood Grown and Transplant, conducted research on red blood cells that transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
As a first step, Blood Grown was taken from a regular donor and magnetic beads were used to detect stem cells that are capable of becoming red blood cells.
In a laboratory, these stems were placed in a nutrient solution. It took around three weeks for the solution to encourage the cells to multiply and become more mature.
Prior to being stored and later transfused into patients, the cells were purified using a standard filter, the same kind used when regular blood donations are processed to remove white blood cells.
During the trial, laboratory-grown blood was tagged with a radioactive substance that is commonly used in medical procedures to monitor how long it remains in the body.
To compare the lifespan of the cells, 10 volunteers will receive two donations of 5-10mls at least four months apart, one of normal blood and one of lab Blood Grown.
What is the cost?
A longer lifespan of lab-grown cells may also result in fewer transfusions for patients in the long run.
It is common for blood donations to contain a mixture of young and old red blood cells, so their lifespan can be unpredictable and suboptimal. Red Blood Grown cells made in a lab should last 120 days, while lab-grown blood is fresh.
Although the technology is currently cost-effective, it still comes at a high price.
Blood donations currently cost the NHS around £145, according to NHS Blood and Transplant. Costs would likely be higher for lab-grown substitutes.
The NHS Blood Grown and Transplant said there was “no figure” for the procedure, but as technology scales up, costs will be reduced.
It could be introduced at scale in future years if the trial is successful and the research is successful,” a spokesperson told CNBC.