How to Manufacture Blood

Researchers in the U.K. have achieved something of a world first: they have manufactured blood in the lab, which they’ve since administered to humans. The clinical trial will aim to test the safety and effectiveness of the lab-made blood in at least 10 healthy people. Two volunteers have already received a dose.  The scientists — from the University of Cambridge, the National Health Service and the University of Bristol — are keen to find out whether their novel blood can last as long as normal red blood cells (which normally stay alive for about 120 days inside the human body) and whether there are any side effects.

Transfusing donated blood has saved countless lives, allowing patients to get through complicated operations in good health. Blood products also help to treat chronic conditions such as sickle cell anemia. But blood donation, as a system, has many drawbacks. It requires a complicated infrastructure to collect and deliver blood where it’s needed safely. That requires adequate refrigeration all along the route, and while that might be relatively straightforward for developed countries, it remains a challenge elsewhere in the world. Rarer blood types also suffer from dwindling supplies in the blood banks, which often means it’s harder to find a suitable blood match for certain racial and ethnic groups. It’s also costly to maintain the infrastructure; the average donation of less than half a liter of blood costs the U.K.’s National Health Service approximately £130 ($155). That’s why scientists from around the world, often funded by military agencies, have been searching for more practical alternatives for decades. Still, it’s an endeavor that has thus far enjoyed limited success.

After 9/11, the U.S. Army invested millions of dollars in producing a blood replicant to be used for casualties in the battlefield, but it came to naught,” says Lt. Col. Matthew Armstrong, who studies the fluid dynamics of blood at the United States Military Academy at West Point.