The first human trials of synthetic
blood look set to go ahead in the UK.
The Medicines and Healthcare
products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has granted scientists at the Scottish Centre
for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) a licence to manufacture blood from stem cells.
The licence allows the production of blood for use in clinical trials, rather
than just research purposes.
Professor Marc Turner, project
leader and medical director for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, told the Scotsman newspaper that the licence was 'absolutely crucial' to
advancing their work. He added that trials could start in the next two to three
In 2010, Professor Turner's team reported
producing substantial quantities of blood cells from stem cells (reported in BioNews 572). This was seen
as a milestone towards the ultimate goal of producing a limitless supply of artificial
blood, which would drastically reduce the need for donations.
Originally, Professor Turner told
the Scotsman, the project 'used human embryonic stem cell lines and one of the
problems with using those lines is you can't choose what the blood group is
going to be'. Adult donors, on the other hand, can be selected for 'the
specific blood type' required. In any eventual clinical setting this would
likely be the 'universal donor' blood type, O negative, although a special
licence has been granted by the MHRA allowing production of therapies for
The technology at the SCRM allows
induced pluripotent stem cells to be derived from blood or skin samples. Ultimately, if clinical
trials were successful, the manufacture of synthetic blood might not only
reduce dependency on donated blood but also reduce the risk of transmission of blood-borne
infections. Life-saving transfusions could be available at the scene of
accidents and in countries where infection control is problematic.
However, scaling up production to
the level required by national health systems would be a considerable
challenge. Professor Turner emphasised that he was leading a long-term project.
'We do not want people to stop donating blood', he said.
The SCRM facility belongs to
Edinburgh University and is jointly operated by Roslin Cells and the
Scottish National Blood Service. Janet Downie, chief operating officer of
Roslin Cells, said she was 'delighted to have reached this stage and look
forward to welcoming new customers to our state-of-the-art facility'.
The MHRA licences additionally allow
the expansion of current research at the SCRM looking at stroke, Parkinson's
disease, diabetes and cancer.