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Growing good blood

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s becoming science fact – growing blood on an industrial scale.

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There are 2.2 million blood transfusions every year in the UK, and all of them rely on donors. Transfusions are vital in the treatment of trauma, cancer and during surgery. What if we could grow all the blood needed in a lab?

Case study In 2011, SFC began funding an ambitious project to grow red blood cells, developed from stem cells, on an industrial scale.

Worldwide, 92 million bags of blood are used every year, and this is nowhere near enough to meet demand. Each bag of “blood” is actually just the red blood cells separated off from the donor blood. In some areas of the world where diseases are prevalent, it can be difficult to ensure a safe supply of donor blood.

The blood cells made by the project are not synthetic or artificial, they are “as nature”, just made in a lab rather than a body.

At the start of the project, 90% of the cells were lost, but now the researchers are generating 200,000 from each cell. They are aiming to produce O- blood, which can treat 98% of the population.

The research has progressed so much that it is now at the stage where it could produce a bag of blood, which means that the potential to scale-up is within reach.

The project is now part of Novosang, a consortium including all the UK blood services. The researchers have filed four patents and aim to begin the first human trials in 2019, with commercial production in 2023.

SFC’s funding was essential to get the project off the ground, funded a post at each main site and directly leveraged an additional £7.2 million funding.