Artificial blood sourced from stem cells could be administered to organ transplant patients within the next decade.
A research team has developed a method of taking adult stem cells from bone marrow and growing them in the lab to produce blood cells which look and act like their real counterparts.
Once their technique is fine-tuned, the team may consider using stem cells taken from embryos, or reprogrammed skin cells, instead of adult cells, to grow them in much greater quantities in lab.
Marc Turner, professor at Edinburgh University, who led the study, said: “I think it will probably be two or three years before we get to clinical trials and I would think it will be a decade or so before one sees these kinds of artificial red cells or cultured red cells in routine general practice.”
Scientists are also developing alternative blood-like substances which could be shot into the body as a “stopgap” until an actual blood transfusion could be performed, the Telegraph reports.
New infections such as vCJD, the human form of mad cow disease, remain a risk and there are also concerns blood becomes less effective the longer it is stored.
Blood produced from stem cells would avoid these risks and could be manufactured as type O-negative, which is produced by just seven percent of the population but is suitable for use in into up to 98 percent of patients.
While it would be an imperfect substitute for real blood, artificial blood could revolutionise treatment in ambulances, war zones and disaster areas, experts said.
It could also be used in certain hospital situations, for example in elective surgery, and save hundreds of thousands of lives in parts of the world where blood banks are not available.