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Image of the Week: Red blood cells

5 Jun, 2015

B0006423 Red blood cells Credit: Annie Cavanagh. Wellcome Images Red blood cells clearly showing their biconcave disc shape. Scanning electron micrograph 2006 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0, see

On the day that the NHS have announced that the number of new blood donors has dropped 40% in the last decade, our image of the week is red blood cells.

Seen through a scanning electron microscope, you can clearly visualise the distinct biconcave disc shape of these unique cells. This disc shape increases the surface area to volume ratio of the cell, maximising their ability to diffuse oxygen and carbon dioxide and allows them to be flexible to squeeze through the smallest vessels.

The NHS requires new stocks of these red cells (as well as other blood components such as plasma and platelets) every day to treat emergency cases and those requiring longer term treatments such as patients with haemophilia or leukemia. Blood products have a very short shelf life, red blood cells can only be stored for 35 days, and it is very difficult to predict the demand.

New donors from all blood groups are urgently needed. The NHS are particularly urging people with O-negative blood to sign up to donate as their blood can be given universally to all patients.

As the pressures of our busy lives increase and people have less time to donate, the Wellcome Trust has been supporting Professor Marc Turner and his team to look at alternative methods of boosting blood supplies.

They are working on generating new red blood cells from stem cells and have established a clinical grade protocol. Not only does cultured blood provide a new source, it is also expected to overcome many of the problems associated with donated blood transfusions.

The team are now working to perfect this protocol, expand its capabilities and gain approval for initial human studies.

To find out more or to sign up as a donor visit the Give blood website.

Related: What happens to your blood after you’ve donated it? Mosaic takes us behind the scenes at the blood factory.

Image credit: Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images

One Comment leave one →
  1. HHGeek permalink
    7 Jun, 2015 2:43 pm

    I would happily give blood, but because I was born with a hole in my heart it’s not allowed. This despite the fact that I haven’t had any problems since the operation to fix it, I’m healthy (healthier than most), and I easily do / don’t tick all the other boxes that make me a viable donor. It’s really frustrating.

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