To offset the declining number of blood donors, the National Health Service has heavily invested in the production of lab-grown blood. (The U.K.'s health system found a 40 percent decrease in new blood donors in England and North Wales last year compared to a decade ago.)
In a news release published today, the NHS predicts that the first artificial blood transfusions will take place a mere two years from now, in 2017. Made from stem cells taken from adult and umbilical cord blood, the lab-grown alternative will be tested in early phase clinical trials, in which 20 healthy volunteers receive five to 10 milliliters of the stuff. Their results will then be compared to a control group's that receives normal blood donations.
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The aim is to "compare manufactured cells with donated blood," Dr .Nick Watkins, assistant director at the NHS Blood and Transplant unit, said in a statement. "The intention is not to replace blood donation but provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups."
For patients with complex blood types or blood conditions, such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia, finding donors for regular transfusions can be difficult. The NHS, in partnership with a host of brands and retailers, started a campaign to remove the letters A, O and B from the names of British chains such as Waterstones and Odeon Cinemas to raise awareness of the constant need for new donors of all blood types. The hope is that by manufacturing blood in a lab, scientists can solve this supply-demand problem even if the number of new blood donors continues to decline.