Synthetic red blood cells are to be transfused into human testing subjects by 2017, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) Blood and Transplant announced this week.
“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,” says Dr. Nick Watkins, NHS Blood and Transplant Assistant Director of Research and Development.
Replacing human blood is not the goal of the operation, according to Dr. Watkins, who says the intention is to provide the appropriate blood product for specific conditions, a sort of customization of blood transfusions.
Patients with complex blood types for whom finding a compatible donor often leaves healthcare professionals flummoxed would benefit from synthetic blood, according to NHS Blood and Transplant.
Synthetic blood would not benefit those with blood problems the likes of sickle cell anemia or thalassemia, who would continue to receive transfusions of natural blood.
It’s part of a five-year research and development plan to advance the practice of blood transfusion, organ transplantation and regenerative medicine, published Thursday.
“The manufactured red cell trials form part of our world-leading work in regenerative medicine and one of eight research goals for 2015 to 2020 that will bring long-term improvements for patients and donors,” says Dr. Watkins.
The ambitious plan — as the NHS Blood and Transplant describes it — will require a reverse in the ebbing tide of new blood donors to keep patients sufficiently supplied and the price of blood at bay.
It also calls for increasing the number of organ donations from 60 percent to 80 percent and increasing transplant rates by a third to 74 per million UK citizens.
Other parts of the plan include innovative stem cell treatments and research in the interest of blood and organ safety and developing new technologies to simplify the organ transplant process.
As the project gets underway, three National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Blood and Transplant Research Units will be appointed to a top university and will work in partnership with NHS Blood and Transplant.