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Blood could be the key to a range of new medical treatments.
Wednesday 7 & 14 January 2004 9.00-9.30pm

Blood, the liquid tissue, protects life. Through our veins march an army of white blood cells, preventing illness. In Edinburgh, scientists have harnessed this defence force, creating a cancer therapy set to revolutionise the treatment of the disease.


At the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service a donor rolls up his sleeve and waits for the needle. In Birmingham, worried surgeons monitor the progress of a young liver transplant patient. She has developed a rare form of cancer. The drugs that allowed her body to accept the new organ have destroyed the killer element of her immune system, and the tumour has grown unchecked.

In a lab in Edinburgh scientists are meticulously searching a unique blood bank. From blood donations they have selected the fittest white blood cells and trained them to recognise cancer cells. The result is an extensive library of mini ‘immune system’ transplants. When the call comes from the surgeon in Birmingham, they respond immediately. They can match the girl’s tissue type.

The white blood cells, primed for maximum impact, are packed into a frozen box and hurried to Birmingham. There, once thawed and mixed with saline they are slowly transfused into the girl. They specifically seek out and destroy only cancer cells leaving all other tissues intact. There are no side effects. Over the coming days the cancer is destroyed. The girl recovers, the donor is oblivious. The anonymous gift of life.

In a two part series to transmit during the Christmas season, when blood transfusion services are traditionally starved of donations, presenter Georgina Ferry explores the development of this novel cancer therapy, the building a of killer T cell bank and the potential ‘adoptive immunotherapy’ holds for the future treatment of a whole range of as yet uncured diseases.

Programme 1: Banking for the Future
Georgina visits the scientists who, working in sterile isolation, developed the painstaking technique which trains cells to rebuild the body’s immune system. She follows the process from initial cell selection to the time when a withdrawal is made from the bank for use in treatment.

Georgina hears of the past frustration when the bank couldn’t help a patient because it didn’t hold enough compatible cells. Now the bank is fully functioning and can provide trained killer T cells in abundance at only a few hours notice. Finally we meet the survivors, those who with the help of the T cell bank have beaten post-transplant cancer.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 1

Programme 2: The Power Within
Programme two explores the potential of adoptive immunotherapy as an alternative to conventional treatments for disease. Right now, patients who would otherwise have died are being successfully treated with brand new techniques which harness their own immune systems to fight lethal infection. In the future, once the trigger of a cancer or autoimmune disease has been identified, it will be possible to tailor make an individual medicine to destroy even more diseases. AIDS lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease, and autoimmune diseases across the globe are next on the hit list. As the technology is refined adoptive immunotherapy is set to make a huge international impact. All from blood: the one tissue we can afford to share.

Presenter: Georgina Ferry, writer and broadcaster.

Key contributors include: Microbiologist and founder of the blood bank Dorothy Crawford Medical Director of the Liver Unit at Birmingham Children’s Hospital Deirdre Kelly Clinical researcher and blood bank manager Tanzina Haque Clinical Director of the Scottish Blood Transfusion service Marc Turner Haematologists Ann Morrison and Stephen Mckinnon Clinical Researcher Terence Geiger patients Katrina Turley, Brian Johnston and Michele Petrone.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 2
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