Like organs, globally there is a shortage of donated blood that is crucial for emergency and life-saving medical procedures and treatments. Hospitals are required to keep stock of blood at all times, however this is reliant on committed individuals continuing to donate blood and platelets. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of the global population actually ever donates blood. Granted, not everyone can donate blood – as there are some specific prerequisites that determine the viability and usability of the donated blood. The demand for certain blood types and platelets also differs depending on how specific the blood group is and whether it is considered a rare or common blood type.

According to the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), the minimum requirements to donate blood are as follows: you need to be between the age of 16 and 75 years old; in good health; weigh a minimum of 50kgs for blood donations and 55kg for platelets; if you maintain a “low-risk” lifestyle; if you have not donated blood in the last 56 days prior to current date of donation; have a pulse of between 60-100 beats per minute; blood pressure levels of 180/100; and lastly have haemoglobin of 12.g for females and 13.g for males. Of course there criteria that are automatically exclusionary such as being HIV Positive or being treated for an STI at the time of donation – this is due to the risk that this places on both the recipient and the donor.

There are eight blood types that are classified when donating; these are A+, B+, O+, AB+, A-, B-, O- and AB-. Not all blood types are compatible and therefore some blood types such as O- are known as universal donors as they can be used in transfusions for any blood type whereas AB+, which is a rare blood type, is known as a universal receiver as they are able to receive red blood cells from any other blood type. AB- is known as the rarest of the eight main blood types. With all this in mind, it’s understandable that we should be looking for alternative viable replacement options for humans. In a world-first, artificial or lab-grown blood has been transfused into a human system to test the body’s response to the foreign entity. This has been done in small quantities for now to gauge the effects.

One of the project’s goals, outside of looking to meet the demand and reduce pressures in health facilities, is also the ability to manufacture and cater to the rarer blood types which often have very few donors. The research team consists of researchers from across the UK who have taken a normal donation that is then put through a ‘fishing’ process whereby magnetic beads are used to isolate stem cells that in turn have the ability to “become a red blood cell”. They are then nudged to do so by the researchers. This process currently takes about three weeks on such a small scale. Although up-scaling this production process this is challenging for a number of reasons, the team are optimistic that this may be the way forward and envision having great potential for “hard to transfuse patients.”