UK breakthrough: Scientists set to revolutionise military medicine with new man-made blood

Prince George: Expert discusses possible future in military

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The project – expected to be war-ready within the decade – will revolutionise military medicine and raise the survivability chances of seriously injured troops, It comes as the Ministry of Defence continues to learn lessons from the bloody seven-year Afghanistan campaign, in which  around 2,600 soldiers – one in three of those injured – required transfusions to the tune 15,000 litres of blood.

Currently, injured soldiers are evacuated back to a main base where, after an assessment of blood type – there are eight – an urgent transfusion is delivered.

Traditionally O negative blood has been used for emergency transfusions. But its universality puts pressures on supplies for the NHS which is dependent on donors. Even when it is available, it can still be rejected by many body types.

It leaves medics tasked with the challenge of sourcing the correct blood type, which can often lead to fatal delays, while the challenges involved with storing all eight types at forward operating bases or in the evacuation helicopters at the correct temperature make finding a one-fits-all solution imperative.

Though Afghanistan’s Operation Herrick had sufficient air cover to enable soldiers to be evacuated to hospital by helicopter, the same cannot be said for the UN operation in Mali, to which the UK is currently contributing 350 troops.

Even medical advances in powdered freeze-fried plasma  -revealed by the Sunday Express last year – have not prevented military planners from severely curtailing the scope of the mission, for fear of high casualty rates caused by seriously injured soldiers having to rely on road transport to deliver them back to hospitals.

The pioneering research is part of the Regenerative medicine programme, which aims ultimately to replace tissue and significant blood loss as a result of serious injury to service personnel.

For the past two years experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has been working with the University of Bristol to grow red blood cells in the laboratory using stem cells from donated blood.

But now research has already progressed to growing a universal red blood cell, minus the antibodies and antigens which determine blood type, independently in the lab, without the need for any  external blood donations.

Incredibly the end result, a freeze-dried blood solution, will not require refrigeration and will be ready for reactivation as soon as it’s needed.

Because it will be both synthetic and universal, the new blood can technically be readily available in copious amounts  in front line field hospitals, saving more lives.

And though manufacturing blood isn’t cheap, lead clinician Dr Abi Spear said that advances in technology will make the efficient more cost efficient, as it did with mobile phones.

“There are many stages to go through and it could take a decade or so before we see it on the frontline,” Dr Spear, Technical Lead for Regenerative Medicine at DSTL, told Soldier Magazine.

“But it is all undeniably exciting.

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