Image of the Week: Red blood cells

Wellcome Trust Blog

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.


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Medical Library, University of Aberdeen

The team in the Medical Library at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland

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