Red blood cells that have been grown in a laboratory have now been transfused into another person in a world first clinical trial. [1] The manufactured blood cells were grown from stem cells from donors, utilising the Class 2 Biological Safety Cabinet in the process. The red cells were then transfused into volunteers in a clinical trial.

This is the first time in the world that red blood cells that have been grown in a laboratory have been given to another person as part of a trial into blood transfusion.

If proved safe and effective, manufactured blood cells could in time revolutionise treatments for people with blood disorders such as sickle cell and rare blood types. It can be difficult to find enough well-matched donated blood for some people with these disorders.

How is the blood grown?

The research project combines teams in Bristol, Cambridge, London and at NHS Blood and Transplant. It focuses on the red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

This is how it works:

  • They start with a normal donation of a pint of blood (around 470ml)
  • Magnetic beads are used to fish out flexible stem cells that are capable of becoming a red blood cell
  • These stem cells are encouraged to grow in large numbers in the labs
  • And are then guided to become red blood cells

The process takes about three weeks and an initial pool of around half a million stem cells results in 50 billion red blood cells.

These are filtered down to get around 15 billion red blood cells that are at the right stage of development to transplant. [2]

How does a Class 2 Biological Safety Cabinet help scientists grow blood?

The Class II Biological Safety Cabinet, like those manufactured and installed at NHS Blood & Transplant in Bristol by Monmouth Scientific, utilises a specially ventilated enclosure, developed for sterile material handling (BS EN 12469).

The unit guarantees both the operator and the working materials protection from potential biohazard infections by drawing H14 HEPA filtered air to ISO Class 4 quickly around and past the operator. The Class 2 also protect the integrity of the material under investigation.

What is the Clinical Trial looking to discover?

The trial is studying the lifespan of the lab grown cells compared with infusions of standard red blood cells from the same donor. The lab-grown blood cells are all fresh, so the trial team expect them to perform better than a similar transfusion of standard donated red cells, which contains cells of varying ages.

Additionally, if manufactured cells last longer in the body, patients who regularly need blood may not need transfusions as often. That would reduce iron overload from frequent blood transfusions, which can lead to serious complications.

Two people have so far been transfused with the lab grown red cells. They were closely monitored, and no untoward side effects were reported. The amount of lab grown cells being infused varies but is around 5-10mls – about one to two teaspoons.

Further trials are needed before clinical use, but this research marks a significant step in using lab grown red blood cells to improve treatment for patients with rare blood types or people with complex transfusion needs.

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