Blood transfusion has become a mainstay of modern medical practice. However, problems persist both nationally and internationally in maintaining adequacy of supply, managing the risk of transmission of infectious agents and ensuring immune compatibility between donor and recipient. There is, therefore, a massive unmet and increasing clinical demand for blood, which currently absorbs 3 percent of the NHS budget.
Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) offer a potentially limitless source from which to generate red blood cells (RBCs) for use in clinical transfusion, and a method of producing RBCs is now within the technical capability of the project members, and would find an immediate market. This project seeks to enable the wealth of academic research and know-how in this exciting new field to be exploited for the commercial and clinical benefit of the UK. However, development of a novel method of obtaining red blood cells for transfusion cannot become a substitute for conventional blood donation unless the factors determining uptake are understood. Garnering potential public reactions to such cultured blood products is, therefore, an essential element of the project’s research process.