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The First Human Clinical Trials with Synthetic Blood Will Begin as Early as 2017

If you remember back in April of 2014, we showed you a story that was straight out of a science fiction novel: stem cell researchers creating a synthetic blood substitute. If it’s viable, it could lead to the manufacture of synthetic blood on an industrial scale. And now, the time is getting closer to testing whether or not this research is actually going to work.

As early as 2017, the UK’s National Health Service will begin safety tests with 20 human subjects to see if this synthetic blood will work inside the human body. Keep in mind—these first 20 volunteers are not patients. They’re starting with perfectly healthy individuals receiving 10ml (less than two teaspoons) of the manufactured blood for a proof of concept test first before moving on to clinical trials with patients, the BBC reports. (For comparison, a full unit of blood is around 470 ml.)

In a statement from the NHS’s blood and transplant team, Dr. Nick Watkins reported that, “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 synthetic blood substitutes don’t aim to replace real blood. They simply aim to fill one of blood’s many roles: transporting oxygen, specifically in red blood cells. According to Smithsonian.com, there are a couple options to do this. Some can just mimic hemoglobin, while others are entirely new, synthetic oxygen carriers. For the latter, the NHS has created lab-grown red blood cells made from bone marrow or umbilical cord stem cells.

There is still a long way to go for this research and many more proof of concept tests and clinical trials to prove that manufactured blood is viable for patient use. But as Dr. Watkins reports, “The intention is not to replace blood donation, but provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups.” So there will still be a need for volunteers to donate blood in the future.

This has the potential to be a “landmark” moment in the science and healthcare industry. For decades now, researchers have been trying to make fake blood to feed shortages, treat people with blood disorders like sickle cell anemia and even study diseases carried by bloodsucking mosquitoes. The fact that the first ever trials are just around the corner is certainly worth taking notice.

Photo credit: Smithsonian

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