Research study update: ASPECT study | Antigen specific T cells for COVID-19 Therapy and the Therapeutic cell bank

Research study update: ASPECT study | Antigen specific T cells for COVID-19 Therapy and the Therapeutic cell bank

Lifeblood researchers, with the help of a small number of very dedicated donors, were able to contribute to some amazing work on novel COVID-19 therapies being conducted by Associate Professor Emily Blyth and her team in the Westmead T-Cell Therapies Group (WTCG) at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research.

What was the question?

How can we help provide potentially life-saving treatments for patients who are at risk of suffering severe and prolonged COVID-19?


Why is it important?

COVID-19 can be severe and often life-threatening for people who are “high risk”. People who have suppressed or compromised immune systems may not be strongly protected against COVID-19 by vaccination. These people are at high risk themselves from COVID-19, but also are at high risk for spreading the disease.


What did we do?

T cells are a vital part of our immune system that fight COVID-19 by finding and destroying infected cells. The Westmead team specialises in developing T cell therapies for various conditions and they’re now developing a T cell therapy for COVID-19.

To help, we identified eight volunteer Lifeblood donors who have recovered from COVID-19 and asked them to donate a sample. The team could use that sample to develop a way to isolate the T cells that recognise COVID-19 and grow more in a laboratory. 

Five of these donors then gave us a whole blood donation which we sent to Westmead’s T-Cell Therapies Laboratory for manufacture into a treatment for COVID-19.


What did we find out?

The Westmead T-Cell Therapies Laboratory isolated T-cells that could fight COVID-19 from the blood of all the donors in this study even though some of them had recovered from COVID-19 more than 24 months before we collected their blood.

At the start of the production process, the Westmead researchers had about 1 million T-cells from each donor. But they were able to grow almost a billion T cells from each of the five donors. That’s enough to potentially treat up to 15 patients from each donation.


What’s happening next?

A/Prof Emily Blyth and her team are preparing a clinical trial to test these COVID-fighting immune cells in people whose immune systems aren’t able to fight COVID-19 by themselves.

We hope that continuing clinical research will help us understand how these COVID-19 specific T cells work, when it’s best to use this therapy, and which group of patients will benefit most.

Elizabeth Knight
Elizabeth Knight
National Clinical and Donor Research Manager

Elizabeth works across a number of R&D projects/ activities and manages a diverse team of researchers who collectively form the Donor Research team. The Donor Research team strives to build the sustainability of the donor panel, maintain their health and well being as well as contribute to research performed by external collaborators in Healthcare. Elizabeth completed her Masters degree in Public Health at the University of Wollongong and went on to gain more than 15 years’ experience working in clinical trials, both locally and overseas, including more than three years for the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada working on Hepatitis C treatment for current and former Injection Drug Users. On joining Lifeblood Elizabeth lead the first trial in Donors direct to Plasma, the ADOPT study.

Justine O'Donovan
Justine O'Donovan
Clinical Research Nurse Consultant

Justine puts her nursing and transfusion sector experience to use as she facilitates Clinical Trials on precision medicine that have an involve Lifeblood donors and hospital patients. Justine has a Diploma of Applied Science-Nursing, and has completed Haematology Nursing and Immunisation for Health Practitioners at the Australian College of Nursing. Justine is a graduate of the NSW Health Clinical Excellence Commissions Executive Leadership Course and has a Masters of Pharmaceutical Medicine from the University of NSW. Justine’s work is about best practice in research to ensure participant safety. Justine also acts as a clinical reference point for our researcher’s conducting studies on donor health.