Yvonne's story: lab-grown blood cells

Yvonne is one of the first people to be transfused with red blood cells grown in a laboratory - part of a world-leading trial involving Addenbrooke's Hospital. 

Yvonne Smith, one of the first people to be transfused with red blood cells grown in a laboratory

At the end of last year, we were involved in some ground-breaking research for improving the efficacy and safety of blood transfusions. 

This was through the development of laboratory-grown red blood cells and we've got more good news to share about this world first!  

Yvonne, 69, (who was selected for the trail through the BioResource) from near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, is one of the first two people to receive red blood cells in this world-leading RESTORE trial.

This is the first time in the world that red blood cells that have been grown in a laboratory have been given to another person in a blood transfusion.

NHS Blood and Transfusion (NHSBT) announced the trial was underway in November and Yvonne is the first recipient to be named.

A red blood cell under a microscope
Microscope image example of an RESTORE laboratory grown young red blood cell.

"It's going to help people"

Yvonne received two injections of up to 10mls of red blood cells, both originating from the same donor.

One injection contained red blood cells that grew naturally in the donor. The other injection contained red blood cells that had been grown in a lab from some of the same donor’s stem cells.

Yvonne does not know which injection was which. She received regular follow-ups to check the health of the transfused red blood cells and her own health.

Yvonne was previously a blood donor herself, making about 60 donations, however, she is no longer able to donate herself after a case of breast cancer in 2014.

She said:

“I thought ‘what else can I do?’ I ticked a box and put my name forwards for research.

“I always wanted to be a nurse so it felt normal to help. Years later I was asked about taking part in the RESTORE trial.

“I wasn’t worried about getting the blood that was grown in the lab. They explained everything to me. They wouldn’t be doing it if there was a good chance something would go awry. It was straight forward."

"You are just getting a little bit of blood and it’s going to help other people."
Co-chief investigator Cedric Ghevaert, consultant haematologist at CUH, sitting my lab equipment and computers.
Co-chief investigator Cedric Ghevaert, consultant haematologist at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH).

Revolutionising treatments and transforming care

Professor Cedric Ghevaert, is co-chief investigator on the trial and a consultant haematologist at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) and NHS Blood and Transplant. He said:

"We hope our lab-grown red blood cells will last longer than those that come from blood donors.

"If our trial, the first such in the world, is successful, it will mean that patients who currently require regular long-term blood transfusions will need fewer transfusions in future, helping transform their care."

"We are immensely grateful to our trial participants. Without them, this clinical trial would never see the light of day."

If proven safe and effective, manufactured blood cells could in time revolutionise treatments for people with blood disorders such as sickle cell and rare blood types.

It can be difficult to find enough well-matched donated blood for some people with these disorders.

Yvonne said:

“I am not squeamish. The injections were into my arm on the side of the elbow, where you donate blood. I couldn’t tell which one injection was the lab grown blood.

“I know the research could help people with sickle cell and other diseases where it’s difficult to find matching blood. Otherwise those people have a raw deal.

“So why wouldn’t you do it? I hope just hope some good comes from it.”

More about RESTORE trial

The trial is studying the lifespan of the lab grown cells compared with infusions of standard red blood cells from the same donor.

The lab-grown blood cells are all fresh, so the trial team expect them to perform better than a similar transfusion of standard donated red cells, which contains cells of varying ages.

The trial is the first step towards making lab grown red blood cells available as a future clinical product.

For the foreseeable future, manufactured cells could only be used for a very small number of patients with very complex transfusions needs.

The NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) continues to rely on the generosity of donors.

The BioResource was able to provide the necessary infrastructure, by providing phenotypic information on potential participants, like Yvonne, and the access it gave the RESTORE team to contact volunteers and enable recruitment. 

If you are interested in working with the NIHR BioResource to support your research, please get in touch. 

If you are interested in volunteering with the BioResource so you can be part of future research we support, we’d love to hear from you. 

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