Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service – past, present and future

Professor Marc Turner (Medical Director, Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service) explores our role at the forefront of developments in blood, tissues and cells.

He also talks about how we continue to lead the way when it comes to cellular and gene therapies.

“In 1816, John Henry Leacock, a medical student studying in Edinburgh, was the first to demonstrate that an animal that had been bled to the point of collapse could be saved by the transfusion of blood from another animal of the same species. Fellow medical student James Blundell continued his work and later moved to Guys Hospital in London where he carried out the first human to human transfusions in 1818.

“200 years later, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) opened its new state of the art national centre. The centre was named after Jack Copland, the Edinburgh dentist who established one of the first blood transfusion services in the world in Scotland in 1930 in response to the death of a friend’s wife from obstetric haemorrhage. SNBTS has therefore long been at the forefront of developments in blood transfusion as well as, for many years, plasma product manufacture, and more recently the provision of tissues and cells such as heart valves, tendons and haematopoietic stem cells (a type of cell that can develop into all other types of blood cell and is used in bone marrow transplantation).

“Scotland faces significant challenges over the coming years due to our ageing population and high levels of health inequality. Conditions such as dementia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer cause widespread and increasing morbidity and mortality, leading to a heavy burden of ill health on patients, their families and our health and social care systems.

“Many of these conditions can be mitigated but not reversed or cured. Advances in our knowledge of stem cell and developmental biology, cancer biology and immunology raise the potential for developing a new generation of regenerative and immune therapies.

“Over the past 15 years we’ve been involved in the development of Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products – cell, gene and tissue-engineered therapies which use human blood, cells or tissues as the starting materials for the manufacture of live medicinal products.

“We’ve manufactured a number of different products including dendritic cells (cells which process antigens and present them to T cells to promote immunity to foreign antigens and tolerance to self antigens) to treat breast cancer and acute myeloid leukaemia, cytotoxic T lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that kills cells that are infected with viruses, are cancerous or damaged in other ways) against the Epstein Barr Virus for immunosuppressed patients with a form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, corneal epithelial stem cells (corneal epithelium is a self-renewing tissue) for ocular surface disorders and macrophages (specialised cells involved in the detecting, ingesting and destroying bacteria and other harmful organisms and cells) for liver cirrhosis.

“In 2013 we opened a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) manufacturing facility in the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Roslin Cells Ltd to facilitate translation of research protocols to early phase clinical trial.

“The opening of the Jack Copland Centre this year provides capacity to manufacture at a larger scale for pivotal clinical studies and adoption into routine clinical practice. In addition this year has seen the opening of the Northern Alliance Advanced Therapy Treatment Centre with the objective of facilitating the adoption of this new generation of therapies in Scotland and the north of England.

“The new generation of cell and gene therapies promises to revolutionise the way in which we treat many of degenerative and cancer conditions. Here at SNBTS, we have the expertise to facilitate the translation of these therapies into clinical application to the benefit of our patients, NHSScotland and the wider Scottish economy.”

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Meet Professor Marc Turner

Professor Marc Turner, Medical Director, Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service

Professor Marc Turner, Medical Director, SNBTS


Marc Turner is Professor of Cellular Therapy at the University of Edinburgh and Medical Director at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

He qualified in Medicine from the University of Manchester in 1982 and trained in General Medicine and Haematology. He obtained his PhD in human haematopoietic stem cell biology from the University of Edinburgh in 1995 and an MBA in Life Sciences from the Open University in 2007. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London, of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, of the Royal College of Pathologists and of the Higher Education Academy.

His research interests include the risk of transmission of prion diseases (rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders) by blood, tissues and cells and the translation of advanced therapy medicinal products to clinical practice. He has held 35 research grants and has 150 publications. He is currently a Non-Executive Director of Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, Chair of the Global Alliance on iPSC Therapies and of the European Blood Alliance Tissues, Cells and Advanced Therapies Working Group.

He is one of two physicians appointed by the European Commission as Members of the European Medicines Agency Committee on Advanced Therapies and is also a Member of the Commission on Human Medicines Clinical trials, Biologicals and Vaccines Expert Advisory Group. He is co-Director of the Advanced Therapy Treatment Centre covering Scotland and the North of England.

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