The red blood cells transport the oxygen necessary for your survival, and if you lose blood during surgery or in an accident, you must seek donations. But instead of relying on the blood bank, researchers are now working to make their own supplies. Some start with biological materials, modifying cow’s blood or coaxing stem cells to make the much-needed oxygen carriers. Others hope to craft synthetic materials into blood cell substitutes that may deliver not only vital oxygen, but also medicine. Blood substitutes don’t aim to replace real blood, they simply fill one of bloods’ roles: transporting oxygen. The blood, developed by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), would be Type O negative, also known as universal donor blood, which currently comprises just 7 percent of the blood donor pool.
A long-awaited clinical trial of artificial red blood cells will occur before 2017, NHS scientists said. The blood is made from stem cells extracted from either the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies or the blood of adult donors. The trial, thought to be a world first, will involve small transfusions of a few teaspoons of synthetic blood to test for any adverse reactions. It will allow scientists to study the time the manufactured red blood cells can survive within human recipients. The U.K.’s National Health Service announced plans for a small safety trial of 20 people that will begin in 2017. Nick Watkins, a physician on the NHS’s blood and transplant team, said in a statement:
“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.”