Imperial's Sickle Cell Research Group welcomes Sickle Cell Warriors

Researchers at Imperial hosted a visit for children living with Sickle Cell to tour Hammersmith Campus.

The Imperial Sickle Cell Research Group within the Department of Immunology and Inflammation welcomed nine children aged 13-18 as part of The New Black Film Collective's (TNBFC) Sickle Cell Warrior project.

The visit, held on the 25 August, enabled the young people to explore the Hammersmith Hospital and the facilities at Imperial College London.

The Sickle Cell Warrior Project aims to give young Black Sickle Cell sufferers the chance to make a significant impact by telling their story through film. For the research aspect of the programme, The TNBFC partnered with Imperial to deliver two tours for a group of young people. This allowed them to explore varied aspects of Sickle Cell research.

Professor Julie Makani, Provost's Visiting Professor of Haematology at the Department of Immunology and Inflammation said: “Bringing young people affected by Sickle Cell to Imperial College London provides them with firsthand exposure to cutting-edge research and medical facilities and fosters a sense of empowerment and belonging within the scientific community."

"Educating the Sickle Cell Warriors about the broader context of the condition is crucial for fostering a global understanding of its impact and advancing inclusive research initiatives."

Priscilla Igwe, Managing Director at The New Black Film Collective said: "Our Sickle Cell Warriors had a fantastic and inspirational time at Imperial College London. We know that the future research of Sickle Cell is in great hands, and we were wowed by the work being done by people who look like us. This made us feel more secure and optimistic about a breakthrough in treatment coming down the line."

The tour started with a visit to Hammersmith Hospital, facilitated by Dr Steven Okoli, Elizabeth Erikodi, Caroline Cheo, Afoke Arigbe, Tsembie Dlamini, Sinju Thomas and Fatima Naveed-Rafique. The group learned more about how Sickle Cell patients are cared for at the hospital.

Additionally, they had the opportunity to see an apheresis bay. Apheresis is the process of removing unhealthy red blood cells with a machine and then replacing them with healthy, non-sickled red blood cells from a donor. This treatment is vital for Sickle Cell patients because it helps increase the amount of oxygen available in the blood and reduces the risk of Sickle Cell-related complications.

In the afternoon, the group saw how Sickle Cell research is conducted in labs at Imperial College London, Hammersmith Campus. Dr Norris Igbineweka, Professor Julie Makani, and Mary Adeturinmo led the young people round the research labs to see the equipment. They discussed exciting new research areas for this condition and the importance of giving young people and patients a voice in the future of research.

They concluded the day with reflections on how Sickle Cell advocacy and activism are essential aspects of the future of the research.

Mary Adeturinmo, Researcher at the Department of Immunology and Inflammation said: “The immersive experience proved highly valuable for the young Sickle Cell Warriors, as evidenced by their positive feedback. They expressed both enjoyment from the visit and the deep insights gained about their condition."

"Drawing from lived experience, a deeper comprehension of this condition not only facilitates self-advocacy but also empowers advocacy efforts for others affected."

Prof Julie Makani reflects on the tour.