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Research updates

News about the work we are doing to reduce the impact of coronavirus

We are supporting national research dedicated to understanding COVID-19 and improving the outcome for patients. 

Many of our research, manufacturing and testing teams are involved in work alongside other sectors of the healthcare system to help analyse and control the outbreak of COVID-19.

Testing for COVID-19

Testing blood to understand how many people have had, or currently have, coronavirus has been outlined as a priority for this government in the response to the outbreak in the UK.

We are supporting some of the research that is underway, by sharing some samples of blood which we hold already. These are extra samples which we routinely take when you give blood and use for mandatory tests to make sure your donation is safe for transfusion.

Providing blood samples

We are supplying Public Health England (PHE) with blood samples to help with understanding how many people in the population are likely to have had the virus since the start of the outbreak and how this is changing over time.

Working with the Wellcome Trust, PHE and leading healthcare organisations, this information is being used to better understand how the virus has spread and to help manage the response to the pandemic.

We are also helping the research effort by creating a bioresource of plasma samples that will support researchers with COVID19 related projects.   

Nick Watkins, Assistant Director for Research and Development says:

“One of the big challenges with the coronavirus epidemic is understanding how many people have been or are infected with the virus and how it has spread in the population.

"There are two challenges in answering these questions:

  1. having simple, rapid tests for identifying people who have, or have had, the virus and;
  2. having samples from the population at large on which the test can be used.

Of particular interest to improve understanding of the epidemic are historical samples collected in the UK over the past 3-4 months since the virus first appeared in humans."

Find out more about how samples from blood donations are being used

Providing testing machines

We and the other UK blood services are working together to support the Government's plans to increase the volume and speed of testing for coronavirus.

We have loaned a Nucleic Acid Technology (NAT) testing machine to Public Health England's (PHE) Porton Down testing facility which will increase capacity for testing. The NAT machine can test for COVID-19 in nasal swab samples.

The Welsh Blood Service has also lent its NAT testing machine to PHE for COVID-19. This means that we are performing NAT testing of blood donor samples for Welsh blood donors whilst their equipment is out on loan.

We are also working with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service to establish further contingency for each other.

This is a great example of how we have worked with other UK healthcare organisations to make rapid progress in an emergency. We are experts at testing blood, and by reorganising and absorbing additional work, we have enabled the loan of two high-throughput analysers to PHE to test healthcare workers for COVID-19 and return them safely to front-line work as soon as possible.
Stephen Thomas

NHSBT Associate Director for Manufacturing Development

Cell therapy trial (REALIST COVID-19)

Our Cellular and Molecular Therapies team is manufacturing cells for use in a new clinical trial, led by Queen's University Belfast and funded by the Wellcome Trust and Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland Research and Development (HSCNI R&D).

The REALIST trial is investigating the use of Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) in the treatment of COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory syndrome (ARDS). These cells have been shown in experimental models to reduce inflammation, fight infection and improve the repair of injured tissue.

The cells are produced from umbilical cord tissue supplied by our Cord Blood Bank. 

The first few patients in the REALIST COVID-19 trial have now been recruited, with plans to recruit at least 60 patients at sites across the UK.