Cell development

Treating diabetes, enabling cell therapy development, supporting stem cell research.

Islet Cell Programme

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) works in collaboration with the Multi-Organ Transplant Unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to deliver the Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant Programme for the treatment of severe Type I diabetic patients who have lost their hypoglycaemic awareness.

Such patients have problems managing their blood sugar levels and can collapse without any warning when their blood sugar drops too far.

Treatment of such severe diabetes involves isolating islet cells (the cells which make and release insulin) from a donor pancreas and transfusing them into the patient's liver. The aim of this treatment is to restore hypoglycaemic awareness and help patients to reduce their insulin requirements.

The SNBTS Islet Cell Laboratory is responsible for the complex preparation of islets extracted from a deceased donor's pancreas and their preparation for transplant.

The programme was established in 2011 and within the first 5 years there have been more than 50 islet cell transplants.

Cell therapy development

Research into cell therapy to repair damaged tissue or to direct the immune system to reject infections or tumours has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of numerous diseases.

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service Cellular Therapeutics is based at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) in Edinburgh. Scientists from SNBTS work in partnership with colleagues from quality assurance, regulatory compliance and laboratory testing, as well as colleagues from the University of Edinburgh and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult inter alia to create a centre of excellence for cellular therapy.

Current cellular therapy development within SNBTS includes:

Haematopoietic Progenitor Cells

Haematopoietic Progenitor Cells (HPCs) are best known as stem cells and are present in blood and bone marrow. HPCs are capable of forming all the blood cell types - white cells (the cells that fight infection), red cells (the cells that carry oxygen) and platelets (the cells that help stop bleeding).

The Tissue and Cells Department within the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service provides processing, storage and infusion of HPCs and related products to support the South East Scotland Clinical HPC Transplant programme.

HPC transplantation is vital to correct defects in bone marrow, either inherited or because of disease. It is also essential in the treatment of leukaemia and other types of cancer to make bone marrow effective again after chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

HPCs are collected either from the bone marrow or from the peripheral blood by apheresis. They are then frozen in liquid nitrogen where they can remain available for treatment for many years.

Depending on the type of disease requiring treatment, the stem cells may be obtained from the individual patient, from a close relative, or from a matched altruistic donor.

Anthony Nolan is a charity that finds matched donors for leukaemia patients who need a lifesaving stem cell or bone marrow transplant. More information is available online. 

Visit the Anthony Nolan website (external link)