Royal Society event showcases Glasgow's expertise in stem cells

Issued: Mon, 21 Jun 2010 10:52:00 BST

Members of the public can see their own blood cells move on screen with an interactive exhibit which explains how stem cells can be turned into blood.

The exhibit, which will come to Glasgow and Edinburgh next year, highlights a £2.9 million research project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, which is looking at turning stem cells into red blood cells that can be used for transfusions.

The collaborative research involves Dr Jo Mountford of the University's Faulty of Biomedical and Life Sciences and the University of Edinburgh’s Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

Also involved is the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, NHS Blood and Transplant, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and Roslin Cells.

The exhibit is one of 26 displays chosen for the Royal Society's annual summer exhibition, at which some 30,000 visitors are expected. It is hoped that it will run during Edinburgh and Glasgow's Science Festivals next year.

The Royal Society summer exhibition is being held at London's Southbank as part of See Further: The Festival of Science and Arts.

Dr Mountford, a senior lecturer in Integrated Biology, said: "The work we are doing here in Glasgow aims to exploit the potential of stem cells to generate unlimited supplies of blood; red blood cells generated in this way could help to meet the increasing global needs for transfusion.

"This exhibition offers us an invaluable opportunity to explain the background to our work and to describe the exciting research we are undertaking at the University of Glasgow and with our collaborators a cross the UK."

People will be able to place a microscope under the tongue, which will capture moving images of both their red and white blood cells on a 42-inch screen.

Youngsters will also have the opportunity to cure "Stem Cell Stella" by ensuring that they move a marble stem cell along the correct path so that it turns into the right kind of cell needed to treat her.

There will also be models highlighting the differences between the cell types in our blood, which also show how red blood cells are flat in the middle to maximise the amount of oxygen they can absorb while passing through the lungs.

As well as looking at embryonic stem cells to produce infection-free blood, scientists are working on producing a generic type of blood that could be used for all blood groups.

Marc Turner, Professor of Cellular Therapy at the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, said: "Some two million units of blood are transfused each year in Britain and we are reliant on donors to meet the demand. With stem cells we have the potential to create unlimited supply of infection free blood, which would address the issue of a shortage of donors both in the developed and developing world."

The Royal Society Exhibition takes place at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall from Friday June 25 to Sunday, July 4.

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