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Making red blood cells: A model of stem cell therapy development

Translating laboratory research into cell therapies raises many complex questions and challenges for both science and society. Social scientist Emma King spent four years following a regenerative medicine research project to examine how clinical translation might work in practice. Here, she reflects on what she learnt and what it might mean for the development of future therapies.

For the past four years I have been following the work of the ‘BloodPharma Project’, which is seeking to culture red blood cells in the laboratory from pluripotent stem cells, with the eventual aim of creating a clean and unlimited source of red blood cells for transfusion. Headed by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Funding Council, the BloodPharma project is a large, interdisciplinary research project, involving scientists, clinicians, engineers and physicists from the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Heriot-Watt, alongside the Scottish, English and Irish blood transfusion services and Roslin Cells Ltd. Following the BloodPharma project has given me a window into a possible model for translating stem cell therapies from basic science to clinical use. Questions and challenges arise which are sure to have implications for the development of future novel stem cell therapies.