LAB produced red blood cells are set to be transfused into humans by 2017, NHS Blood and Transplant announces.
The landmark in-man clinical trials of manufactured blood form a key part of the blood and organ service's 2020 Research and Development programme.
Published today (25/6/15) the plan outlines how NHS Blood and Transplant, in partnership with leading universities, will develop transfusion, transplantation and regenerative medicine over the next five years.
Dr Nick Watkins, NHS Blood and Transplant Assistant Director of Research and Development said: "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 trials will compare manufactured cells with donated blood. The intention is not to replace blood donation but provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups.
"Research has laid the foundation for current transfusion and transplantation practices. Continued investment in research and development is critical to our role in saving and improving lives through blood and organ donation. Our five-year research and development plan will ensure we advance treatment of all who depend upon our products and services.
"The manufactured red cell trials form part of our world-leading work in regenerative medicine and one of eight research goals for 2015-2020 that will bring long-term improvements for patients and donors."
Scientists from NHS Blood and Transplant and the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford - led by Prof Dave Anstee and Dr Ashley Toye - are using stem cells from adult and umbilical cord blood to create alternatives to donated blood. Previous work in this area has been enabled by Wellcome Trust funding.
A key aim for the team is to create better-matched blood for patients with complex blood-types for whom it is difficult to find compatible donors. Many of these patients will have blood conditions such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia which require treatment with regular transfusions.
NHS Blood and Transplant has already set ambitious targets for organ and blood donation. The 2020 research and development plan focuses investment in experimental medicine to support these. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has committed £12.1 million funding for three NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Units.
To meet patient needs, the service must reverse declining numbers of new blood donors, maintain a safe, sufficient and efficient supply, and keep the price of blood as low as possible for the NHS.
In organ donation, NHS Blood and Transplant needs to significantly increase the number of lives saved through organ donation. This means by 2020 raising the number of families agreeing to donate a loved ones organs from 60 to 80% and increasing transplant rates by a third to 74 per million.
To help achieve these targets, research into behaviour change as a means to increase donation and consent rates will form another key strand of the new five year research strategy.
Pioneering stem cell therapies will also be developed for those with life-limiting conditions. Research will be carried out to maintain blood and organ safety, to improve evidence as to when blood transfusions should be used, and to assess new technologies to increase the availability of donor organs for transplant.
George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences said: "These exciting and pioneering developments demonstrate the world leading research being done by our NHS. We are now working on an ambitious programme to further improve our work with donors and patients. NIHR funding will ensure we can build on world-class research in transfusion and transplantation for patient benefit."
The NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Units will be embedded within a top university, and, in partnership with NHS Blood and Transplant, will focus on rapid translation of research findings into routine practice in blood donation and in transplantation of stem cells and organs. A decision regarding a possible fourth NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Unit is expected soon.