Leading science, pioneering therapies

Next step in research efforts to culture red blood cells for blood transfusions

14 April 2014

A team of CRM researchers led by Prof Lesley Forrester are refining the process of culturing red blood cells in the laboratory for use in blood transfusions using so called induced pluripotent stem cells.

Immature red blood cells.

Prof Forrester’s lab at CRM is part of a large consortium led by CRM associate researcher Prof Marc Turner of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS). Other partners include the Universities of Glasgow, Loughborough, Bristol and Cambridge as well as NHS Blood and Transplant, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, the Cell Therapy Catapult and Roslin Cells. The project is funded by a new £5M Strategic Award from the Wellcome Trust, see press release.

Blood transfusions are critical to current clinical practice, with over 90 million red blood cell transfusions taking place each year world-wide. Blood donation supplies are insufficient in many countries globally. There is also the risk of transmitting infections, immunological incompatibility and overloading of iron levels. Producing red blood cells in the laboratory could potentially overcome these risks and provide fresh, younger cells which may have a clinical advantage by surviving longer and performing better in blood transfusions.

The project is part of a long-term collaborative research programme led by SNBTS. The work follows previous research which proved that red blood cells could be generated from stem cells, funded by the Wellcome Trust (£2.9M) and the Scottish Funding Council (£2.5M).

The project will involve adapting the iPS cells to multiply in the lab, eventually resulting in production of fresh red blood cells for use in humans. Prof Forrester’s work at CRM aims to improve the yield and reduce the cost of red blood cell production. Prior to initiating clinical trials, the cultured red blood cells will require high grade manufacturing to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards and necessary approval from the UK Regulatory Authorities. The manufacturing will be done by Roslin Cells Ltd and SNBTS at the GMP clinical research facility, housed within the SCRM building.

The aim is for the process to be scalable for manufacture on a commercial scale, with the first in-man trial taking place by late 2016.