Using qualitative research methods in biomedical innovation: the case of cultured red blood cells for transfusion

Catherine Lyall, Emma King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Qualitative research has a key role to play in biomedical innovation projects. This article focuses on the appropriate use of robust social science methodologies (primarily focus group studies) for identifying the public’s willingness and preference for emerging medical technologies. Our study was part of the BloodPharma project (now known as the Novosang project) to deliver industrially generated red blood cells for transfusion. Previous work on blood substitutes shows that the public prefers donated human blood. However, no research has been conducted concerning attitudes to stem cell derived red blood cells.

Method: Qualitative research methods including interviews and focus groups provide the methodological context for this paper.

Findings: Focus groups were used to elicit views from sub-sections of the UK population about the potential use of such cultured red blood cells. We reflect on the appropriateness of that methodology in the context of the BloodPharma project. Findings are in the form of lessons transferable to other interdisciplinary, science-led teams about what a social science dimension can bring; why qualitative research should be included; and how it can be used effectively.

Discussion: Qualitative data collection offers the strength of exploring ambivalence and investigating the reasons for views, but not necessarily their prevalence in wider society. The inherent value of a qualitative method, such as focus groups, therefore lies in its ability to uncover new information. This contrasts with a quantitative approach to simply ‘measuring’ public opinion on a topic about which participants may have little prior knowledge. We discuss a number of challenges including: appropriate roles for embedded social scientists and the intricacies of doing upstream engagement as well as some of the design issues and limitations associated with the focus group method
Original languageEnglish
Article number267
JournalBMC Research Notes
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2016


  • cultured red blood cells
  • public engagement
  • participatory research
  • interdisciplinarity
  • focus groups
  • interviews
  • qualitative research
  • upstream engagement

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Using qualitative research methods in biomedical innovation: the case of cultured red blood cells for transfusion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this