Break new ground in Research

Join a team who are doing pioneering research. Research Assistant, Lucy Kershaw talks about her role in a landmark clinical trial for lab grown red blood cells.

The aim of our research is to help a niche group of patients have a better quality of life. Not to replace donations. Lucy Kershaw Quote

Lucy's story

I am part of a research team working to successfully grow red blood cells in a laboratory and transfuse them into humans by 2017. This is the first mass clinical trial of its kind.

I would like to stress this will not replace donations. The trial is for more niche patients who need a lot of regular transfusions, for example those with Sickle Cell Anemia.

Sickle Cell Anemia patients often need regular full blood exchanges, which is 8-10 units of blood given in one go, which is repeated every 3-4 months. This is donated by a number of different people, so there’s lot of exposure to different blood group antigens.

Lab cells can more closely match patient needs and reduce exposure risks. Patients may even need less lab grown cells as the cells are younger. This would work to reduce the number of procedures needed, giving patients a better quality of life.

"Lab grown cells should help reduce transfusion complications."

Lucy Kershaw

My role is to assist in the application for the clinical trial and deal with the documentation, such as writing Investigational Medical Product Dossier (IMPD). There is a lot of liaising with Quality Assurance and the Advanced Therapy Unit, the department that will be growing the cells. Unlike most research jobs I am not in a lab.

The trial will be carried out in two phases. First, the trial will focus on dividing laboratory grown red cells from stem cells extracted from peripheral blood donors. If this is successful, we will try to do the same from stem cells extracted from cord blood donors.

The cells will be grown in Filton and then safely transported to the highly established clinical trial unit at Addenbrookes in Cambridge for volunteer testing.

Testing will be done on healthy volunteers so we can monitor response and cell survival rates. We’ll be using different stem cell donors and recipients to mirror real life.

The trial is part funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and is a partnership between the University of Bristol and NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT). This is in collaboration with the University of Warwick, the University of Bath and the University of the West of England. Once the trial starts, I will focus on the regulatory side of things.

I have always been interested in this kind of thing. My degree was in Chemistry and Management and this seemed the perfect role to combine my skills.

NHSBT has been fantastic in helping me develop, and is currently supporting me on a 3 year part time MSc course in Transfusion and Transplant Sciences. This has helped me to extend and refresh my biology knowledge. 

I could do this job somewhere else but it wouldn’t have the same impact.