The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) announced the first-ever administration of lab-grown red blood cells to healthy individuals as part of their RESTORE clinical trial.

The announcement, via news release, says the technology could revolutionize the treatment of people with sickle cell disease (SCD), those with rare blood types, and people who cannot have transfusions.

“Patients who need regular or intermittent blood transfusions may develop antibodies against minor blood groups, which makes it harder to find donor blood which can be transfused without the risk of a potentially life-threatening reaction,” said Dr. Farrukh Shah, medical director of transfusion for NHS Blood and Transplant. “This world-leading research lays the groundwork for the manufacture of red blood cells that can safely be used to transfuse people with disorders like sickle cell.”

NIHR reports that the first two volunteers have been given the cells at their Cambridge Clinical Research Facility and have experienced no side effects whatsoever. The plan is to administer two mini transfusions, 4 or more months apart, to 10 participants.

Read more about sickle cell therapies

One of the transfusions will be of standard donated red cells and the other will be of the lab-grown cells, with the aim of determining if the young lab-grown red cells last longer and perform better than human-made cells.

If the blood cells grown in the lab last longer than human cells, patients could see a reduced need for transfusions, thereby reducing potential complications.

The NIHR cautions that for the foreseeable future, lab-grown cells will only be suitable for a few patients with very complex transfusion needs. Further, larger studies are needed to prove the safety and effectiveness of the cells on a larger scale.


Groundbreaking clinical trial gives lab-grown red blood cells to people for the first time. News release. National Institute for Health and Care Research; November 7, 2022.