The world is two years away from finding out if synthetic blood, a long held medical goal, can sustain human life.

The UK’s National Health Service’s (NHS) Blood and Transplant unit has announced approval has been received for a world first human trial of lab produced synthetic blood with a 2017 start date.

A few teaspoons of the blood, made from a mixture of umbilical cord stem cells and human blood, will be given to volunteers via transfusion to first see if there are any adverse effects . If the synthetic blood does not trigger an adverse affect from body’s immune system, it will show it could be used for specialized treatments right away, and also be stored for emergency transfusions .

Nick Watkins one of the research team members who will be carrying out the trial said they were “confident that by 2017 our team will be ready to carry out the first early phase clinical trials in human volunteers. 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,”

Watkins said the synthetic blood cells were “comparable, if not identical, to the cells from a donor”, and came in two different types – those cultured from umbilical cord stem cells and those manufactured from stem cells of blood cells from adults.

If the trials show the synthetic blood can be used the first plan is to use for treatment of conditions such as sickle-cell anemia, a condition whose sufferers need an ongoing supply of new blood. It will hopefully also be able to be used in cases where patients with rare blood types need emergency transfusions.

But according to Watkins the synthetic blood would not mean the end of blood donations.

“The intention is not to replace blood donation but to provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups,” he said.

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