14 November 2022

A world-first clinical trial is transfusing red blood cells grown in a laboratory into another person, NHS Blood and Transplant announced last week. Researchers believe the major UK trial of manufactured red blood cells could “revolutionise” treatment for patients with diseases such as sickle cell.

The trial will compare the effectiveness and longevity of blood grown from stem cells in the lab with standard donations blood from donors.

Scientists hope that blood cells generated in the lab from stem cells will prove to be “younger” and more durable than blood from donors – which will mean that transfusions last longer. The work could also help supply blood units for patients for whom it is difficult to find suitable donors.

The project, known as “RESTORE”, involves the University of Bristol, working with the University of Cambridge, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The study will involve at least ten healthy volunteers who will receive two mini transfusions of 5-10mls each – one of standard donated red cells, and one of laboratory grown cells – at least four months apart.

Chief investigator Professor Cedric Ghevaert, a haematologist in Cambridge, said: “We hope our lab grown red blood cells will last longer than those that come from blood donors. If our trial, the first such in the world, is successful, it will mean that patients who currently require regular long-term blood transfusions will need fewer transfusions in future, helping transform their care.”

NHS Blood and Transplant medical director Dr Farrukh Shah said: “Patients who need regular or intermittent blood transfusions may develop antibodies against minor blood groups which makes it harder to find donor blood which can be transfused without the risk of a potentially life-threatening reaction.

“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.

“The need for normal blood donations to provide the vast majority of blood will remain. But the potential for this work to benefit hard to transfuse patients is very significant.”

Sickle Cell Society chief executive John James said: “This research offers real hope for those difficult to transfuse sickle cell patients who have developed antibodies against most donor blood types.

“However, we should remember that the NHS still needs 250 blood donations every day to treat people with sickle cell and the figure is rising. The need for normal blood donations to provide the vast majority of blood transfusions will remain.”

Source: NHS Blood and Transplant


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