Vampires, Bloodlust & BATs – The Allergy Clinic


By Chloe Rose

So as I previously mentioned, I work in an office of vampires….

And since working at Southampton General Hospital & the Bioengineering lab my blood lust has evidently increased.

This gentleman is a real vampire (source: pixabay)

So where does blood come into allergy? 

Your white blood cells have 5 subpopulations; one of which are basophils. These cells have vesicles containing histamine, which are released upon stimulation with an allergen.

Stats and Symptoms:

1/5500 people go into anaphylactic shock upon administration of general anaesthesia for the first time. Interestingly, the side chain of general anaesthetic drugs only differs by side chain. This means if a person is allergic to one drug, potentially they could be allergic to them all. Because of this, patients need allergy testing for the entire drug family to find a safe future alternative in their care.

How is allergy testing performed?

Currently there is a 12 month waiting list at Southampton General Hospital which is currently the largest allergy and immunology centre outside of London. The current gold standard we use in clinic are skin prick tests. This essentially looks like a noughts and crosses board, which each allergen is pricked into the skin and left for 15 minutes in each square. If you are allergic a ‘wheal and flare’ reaction will occur. The positive control is nettle rash!

In addition intradermal testing is then performed. This is where serial concentrations of possible allergens are made, starting with the most dilute these are injected inbetween layers of the skin to form a ‘blip’. The blip is drawn around and left for 15 minutes before checking to see if the blip has increased in diameter – positive result. If there is no increase, the next concentration is used.

Next – in vitro testing, at the end of the skin tests a blood sample is taken to be run in the lab known as the basophil activation test (BAT). Here the blood can be stimulated with different concentrations of allergen in a 96 well plate against controls, total histamine and spontaneous release of basophils so the net release of histamine can be calculated so you know how allergic people are.

SO where do I come into it?

Coolest thing about my PhD is the fact that I get to sit in on allergy clinic and watch the tests be performed. I can then request permission to take the blood and process it myself. To save time on healthy volunteers Southampton has a fund that I acquired from the clinical research facility to train PhD students in phlebotomy – if you think this will help you let me know, we should be running another one next year! As scary as it seems taking blood is a very useful skill and saves lots of time for research. Thus in my ‘healthy’ section of volunteers they are currently friends who are aware of my blood lust and allowing this vampire to continue working.

Blood – why do I need it?

My PhD is creating a microfluidic device (lab on a chip) to diagnose patients rapidly to determine if they have a drug allergy. Cutting down the waiting list from 12 months, making the diagnosis window shorter and additionally saving money. Not only that but I will be able to compare it to current tests.

It’s pretty good working from both Engineering and the Hospital, but advice to any other vampires and people working at two sites:

  • Schedule your week carefully: you don’t want to waste time yo-yo ing from site to site.
  • Make sure like any PhD, you have social time and breaks with people – increases productivity, even if it is to walk to Costa to have a half hour coffee with a friend.
  • Network! The more people you know at both sites, the easier it is to become part of the team and know who to ask for help.
  • Get a bus pass or a bike! I walk because I usually spend whole days at either site but if you hate walking, bus or bike is much cheaper
  • BE WARY of Dale Road in the ice on the way to the hospital! I’ve had numerous bambi on ice occasions usually resulting in a comical slipping up the hill and defying gravity.
  • Enjoy it! You get to see twice as many people and it’s great fun!
  • Don’t forget Stags Fridays at 5pm, the best unwind at the end of the week and usually the most social. See you guys there!


This blog solely represents the views of the author and does not reflect the views or opinions of BSPS. Blog content and comments will be moderated and any offensive comments removed. 

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