British scientists have grown human red blood cells in a lab for the first time, and conducted a clinical trial to give it to patients.
The blood is grown by encouraging stem cells found in a blood donor’s sample to become new red blood cells, and opens the door to transfusion treatments for those with ultra-rare blood types.
For the near total majority of blood transfusions, British hospitals will still rely on people rolling up their sleeves and donating. This is, and will remain the case for, A, B, O, and AB blood types.
But what if a patient needs a blood transfusion of the “Bombay” blood group? It’s a tough call, as the British NIH knows of three people in the whole of the UK with this ultra-rare blood type.
Certain diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia, require regular blood transfusions, and if this patient were to also have the Bombay blood type, or “Jka-b-” or “Rh-null” also called “golden blood,” or “SARA” type after the first person it was discovered in, they are in serious danger.
A transfusion with the wrong blood type will be viewed as foreign and attacked by the immune system.
In the new trial, tiny spoonfuls of the lab-grown blood containing radioactive particles were given to ten healthy patients. In this way they can track how long the blood remains in the patients’ blood stream.
A red blood cell typically lasts 120 days, after which the body replaces them. Normal, donated red blood cells contain both younger and older cells, but since lab-grown transfusions would contain only new cells, it could be possible for smaller and less frequent transplants to be undertaken.
“This world-leading research lays the groundwork for the manufacture of red blood cells that can safely be used to transfuse people with disorders like sickle cell,” said Dr. Farrukh Shah, the medical director of transfusion at NHS Blood and Transplant.
“The potential for this work to benefit hard to transfuse patients is very significant.”