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The journey of a cell for research

For over 45 years Anthony Nolan has recruited potential stem cell donors to their register – people who are willing to donate their cells to someone in need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant. As this work continues, in parallel we apply our vast experience and dedicated team of experts to help develop new cell-based therapies that have the potential to dramatically improve the lives of patients.

Our Cell and Gene Therapy Services were created to provide a variety of bespoke blood products, including adult peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC), lymphocytes, whole blood and purified cells (e.g. CD34+) for research purposes in both academic and industry settings.

In this blog we look at the journey these cells take before they arrive at your laboratory, ready to be used in your latest project. We focus on the steps we undertake to ensure that the cells you receive are of the highest quality and have been selected to meet your bespoke research needs.

Selecting the right cells for your research

The Anthony Nolan register now contains a pool of potential donors who are willing to donate their blood cells for research, alongside donating their stem cells directly for transplant.

When a request is made to the Cell and Gene Therapy Service for one of our cellular products, we select a shortlist of these donors who have all been medically assessed and deemed fit to donate. Depending on the nature of the project, suitable donors will be identified by considering characteristics such as HLA tissue type, cytomegalovirus (CMV) status, age, gender and certain medical data.

Contacting our potential donors

A member of the Cell and Gene Therapy team will contact the selected donors to discuss their potential cell donation for your research project. Each donor will be sent a study information sheet alongside Anthony Nolan’s information on how the cells will be collected.

Our donors are at the centre of everything we do. We take great care to make sure they fully understand the donation process and how their cells will be used in the development of new treatments. Before giving their consent, a donor co-ordinator will call them to talk about all aspects of the procedure, including any ethical issues they might be concerned about. This is reviewed again by a medical professional upon arrival at the collection centre, who will also answer any questions the donor might have before consenting. At this point we also repeat some of the donor’s medical checks to confirm they are still eligible to donate their cells.

Collecting the cells

If haematopoietic stem cells are to be collected, a nurse will give the donor a series of G-CSF injections in the days before collection. However, if lymphocytes or a whole blood sample is being donated, this step is not needed.

On the day of collection, the donor will visit one of our UK collection centres such as The London Clinic. Their stem cells will then be collected using a process called apheresis. This involves their blood being drawn from one arm and passed through a cell-separating machine that isolates the lymphocytes, before returning the remaining red blood cells to the other arm. The whole process usually takes four to five hours and often only causes very minor side effects which are monitored by the medical team. Post-donation, one of our donor co-ordinators will follow up with the donor to check on their health and wellbeing.

Checking their quality

A report is provided with every donor’s cell donation. This document contains information on the collection process including the sample volume and the total number of nucleated cells it contains. It’s also possible to supply additional counts of individual cell types at the request of the client.

The donated cells are also checked for infectious disease markers including bacteriological and fungal screening. The test is performed under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions to ensure the cells are free on any infectious agent.

Protecting and processing cell data

We acknowledge and respect the need to protect the personal information our donors share with us for the benefit of research. This is why every collected cell sample and its associated personal data is anonymised to protect the identity of our donors.

In accordance with the Data Protection Act (2018) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we only collect data required by the Cell and Gene Therapy team which is then stored and processed by Anthony Nolan.

Delivery to you

Anthony Nolan can deliver cells to any address within the UK, or internationally, within 72 hours of collection.

We will arrange couriers to transport the cells from the collection centre. The cells are transported at either room temperature, refrigerated (2-10oC) or cryopreserved. Each time a specialised courier bag and a temperature logger is used to maintain and record temperatures during transport. These steps allow cell viability and quality to be maintained throughout transit.

We see our clients as partners, so post-delivery we follow up to see how the material was used and how we can help moving forwards.

Contributing to scientific developments

Our clients are transforming the cell and gene therapy space by developing new treatments that will hopefully save and improve the lives of patients around the world. We are proud to help facilitate this important work – providing the right cellular materials to advance their research.

In keeping with the parameters of our donor’s consent, our cells can be used at various points in the therapeutic pipeline. This includes initial development, determining the safety and efficacy of a new therapy, and establishing how production can be scaled to meet the demands of manufacturing for clinical use.

To find out how Anthony Nolan’s Cell and Gene Therapy Services can support your work, please get in touch.

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