CambridgeNews  |  Posted: June 25, 2015 By Freya Leng

NHSBT Blood Van

Cambridge scientists are involved in a landmark project that will see red blood cells produced in the laboratory transfused into humans by 2017, NHS Blood and Transplant has announced.

The in-man clinical trials of manufactured blood form a key part of the blood and organ service’s 2020 Research and Development programme.

The plan outlines how NHS Blood and Transplant, in partnership with leading universities including Cambridge, will develop transfusion, transplantation and regenerative medicine over the next five years.

Dr Nick Watkins, from the University of Cambridge and NHS Blood and Transplant Assistant Director of Research and Development said: “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. We are confident that by 2017 our team will be ready to carry out the first early phase clinical trials in human volunteers.

“These trials will compare manufactured cells with donated blood. The intention is not to replace blood donation but provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups.

“Research has laid the foundation for current transfusion and transplantation practices. Continued investment in research and development is critical to our role in saving and improving lives through blood and organ donation. Our five-year research and development plan will ensure we advancetreatment of all who depend upon our products and services.

“The manufactured red cell trials form part of our world-leading work in regenerative medicine and one of eight research goals for 2015-2020 that will bring long-term improvements for patients and donors.”

Scientists from NHS Blood and Transplant and the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford – led by Prof Dave Anstee and Dr Ashley Toye – are using stem cells from adult and umbilical cord blood to create alternatives to donated blood. Previous work in this area has been enabled by Wellcome Trust funding.

A key aim for the team is to create better-matched blood for patients with complex blood-types for whom it is difficult to find compatible donors. Many of these patients will have blood conditions such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia which require treatment with regular transfusions.

NHS Blood and Transplant has already set ambitious targets for organ and blood donation.

The 2020 research and development plan focuses investment in experimental medicine to support these. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has committed £12.1 million funding for three NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Units.