Dr. Kendra Hodgkinson

Kendra Hodgkinson is a scientific writer at Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation. Kendra first became interested in science communication and outreach during her PhD in cancer research, when she was an active volunteer with Let’s Talk Science and with Science Travels. Leading fun, hands-on science activities in schools sparked a passion for sharing the excitement of science with everyday Canadians. In her current role, she helps scientists at Canadian Blood Services share their research findings in peer-reviewed journals and in more accessible publications such as Centre for Innovation ResearchUnits and the RED blog.

Meet the Researcher: Dr. Heyu Ni


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

[Updated Nov 6, 2018]

 

For this “Meet the researcher” post, we met with Dr. Heyu Ni, a scientist at Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation who is an expert in platelet immunology and clotting.

Congratulations to Canadian Blood Services scientist, Dr. Heyu Ni (St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto), on his successful application for a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Foundation Grant. This highly competitive, prestigious award provides long-term support for the pursuit of innovative, high-impact research programs. Dr. Ni was awarded 7-years' support for his project "Thrombosis and Thrombocytopenia: Novel mechanisms and treatments". 

 

 

 

How long have you been with Canadian Blood Services?

I have been with Canadian Blood Services since July 2001.

 

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Dr. Heyu Ni

What’s your role?

I am a scientist in the Canadian Blood Services Centre for Innovation. I’m also a full professor in the departments of laboratory medicine and pathobiology, medicine, and physiology at the University of Toronto, and a scientist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, where I’m the platform director for hematology, cancer, and immunological diseases. My roles include discovering novel mechanisms and treatments for diseases related to transfusion medicine, as well as training students and disseminating knowledge in the field.

"​During my MD training program and intern residency in the hospital, I saw many patients who passed away due to a lack of effective treatment. Ultimately, my curiosity, combined with a desire to save lives, drove me into science and research." 

Dr. Heyu Ni, Scientist, Centre for Innovation, Canadian Blood Services

Where is your lab?

My research lab is located at St. Michael's Hospital in the Keenan Research Center, which is affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Tell us about your area(s) of research.

My research areas include platelet physiology and platelet immunology.

Platelet physiology:

When a blood vessel is injured, bleeding is stopped by two key mechanisms: coagulation and formation of a platelet plug. There are many interactions between the two mechanisms. For example, platelets accelerate coagulation by enhancing the generation of thrombin, an important coagulation protein. Conversely, thrombin generated by the coagulation process increases platelet activation.

Problems with coagulation or platelet function can be dangerous; many patients with bleeding disorders must be transfused with blood products to stop their bleeding. On the other hand, improper formation of a platelet plug may block blood vessels (thrombosis). Thrombosis in a coronary artery (heart attack) or cerebral artery (stroke) is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. To control these life-threatening disorders, we are researching the mechanisms of bleeding and clotting.  

Learn more about Dr. Ni’s research on clotting:

RED blog: Developing safer drugs for heart attack and stroke patients

RED blog: Highly ranked transfusion-related research projects get greenlight

 

Platelet immunology:

Autoimmune thrombocytopenia (ITP) is a bleeding disorder in which patients’ immune systems attack their own platelets, leading to uncontrolled bleeding and a poor quality of life. The current first-line treatments, intravenous immune globulin (IVIg) and steroid therapies, work well for some patients, but many patients are resistant. We are working to learn more about ITP, identify people who won’t respond to IVIg treatment, and develop alternative therapies.         

Another bleeding disorder associated with platelet destruction is fetal and neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia (FNAIT). FNAIT can cause severe bleeding, such as intracranial hemorrhage (ICH), which can threaten the life of a fetus or newborn. FNAIT is poorly understood and current therapy has not yet been standardized. We are evaluating therapeutic efficacies of IVIg and fetal platelet transfusion as well as developing new therapies to control this devastating disease.

Learn more about Dr. Ni’s research on FNAIT:

ResearchUnit: Natural killers: when cells go wrong

ResearchUnit: Platelets vs. blood vessels: what causes bleeding in fetuses and newborns with FNAIT?

RED blog: New research reveals insights into causes of FNAIT

What are you working on now?

We have established cutting-edge microscopy technologies that allow direct monitoring of clot formation in real time in animal models. Using these techniques, we were the first to observe that platelet aggregation and clot formation still occur in the absence of several molecules believed to be essential for clotting: fibrinogen, von Willebrand factor, and plasma fibronectin. These surprising discoveries challenged the established theory of blood clotting and suggested that other unidentified molecule(s) are also involved. This could lead to the identification of novel targets for anti-thrombotic therapies and novel plasma proteins for transfusion to control bleeding. My team is in the process of identifying these mysterious molecules using several state-of-the-art techniques. We will then investigate the roles of these molecules in platelet biology, disease, and transfusion medicine.

Several of our recent papers (2012, 2014, 2015, 2017) have investigated how different types of ITP may respond differently to therapy (e.g. IVIg). This has important implications for human ITP and potential screening of patients in order to successfully treat this disease. In another series of publications (2010, 2011, 2015) we characterized the first animal model of FNAIT and examined its response to IVIg therapy. Currently, we are studying the molecular and cellular causes of ITP and FNAIT, including the maternal immune responses to fetal platelet antigens and the role of placental dysfunction in the disease progression of FNAIT. We have also developed several novel therapies and preventative treatments that have led to clinical trials in human patients.

Why did you get into science?

I have always been curious about nature and became interested in science when I was a child. During my MD training program and intern residency in the hospital, I saw many patients who passed due to a lack of effective treatment. Ultimately, my curiosity, combined with a desire to save lives, drove me into science and research.                                             

What inspires you?

Interesting and unexpected observations from nature and experimental results are always inspiring, as well as communication with my trainees and colleagues. It is particularly rewarding to be involved in mentoring and guiding students towards improving their abilities as young researchers; this is something that I have always taken seriously.

 

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Dr. Ni and his lab team

What do you find most exciting about your work?

I am most excited when I find my scientific hypotheses are demonstrated to be true and lead to changes in the way we treat and think about disease. It can be very exciting to go through the entire process from developing an idea, testing it, publishing and eventually improving diagnosis, prevention, and therapy.

What work are you most proud of?

I am very proud of the many original discoveries that my group has been able to publish in high impact journals. My research on clotting (fibrinogen-independent platelet aggregation) and causes of ITP (Fc-independent platelet phagocytosis) has generated important contributions to medical science and transfusion medicine. I have also identified new therapeutic strategies with great potential to develop new treatments for ITP, FNAIT, and blood clotting. However, what I am most proud of are the many excellent students I have trained, who are also using their skills to contribute to medical sciences and patient care.

When you’re not in the lab where could we find you?

Travelling for scientific meetings is the most common reason that somebody may be not able to find me in the lab. If time allows, I also like sports such as fishing, skiing, and table tennis, as well as watching movies.   

 

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Dr. Ni and family on vacation.

 

 

Subscribe to the Research & Education Round Up to stay up to date on research publications and funding opportunities.

Visit our Funded Research Projects page to view projects funded by Canadian Blood Services.

 


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.

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Meet the Researcher: Dr. Jason Acker


Thursday, June 07, 2018

For this instalment of “Meet the researcher”, we met with Dr. Jason Acker, a senior research scientist at Canadian Blood Services who specializes in the manufacturing and storage of blood components.  

“What gets me up in the morning is the knowledge that through the work of my team and my collaborators, we are able to have a direct impact on the lives of patients. The technical and scientific support we provide helps the organization make critical decisions about the quality of the products that we are collecting, manufacturing and distributing.” 

~ Dr. Jason Acker, Research Scientist, Canadian Blood Services

 

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How long have you been with Canadian Blood Services?

As an employee, I’ve been with Canadian Blood Services for more than 15 years. I joined as an associate scientist in 2002. Before that, I worked in the Edmonton Blood Centre as an undergraduate and graduate student for almost 10 years, starting in 1992. This predates the creation of Canadian Blood Services, so I can say that I’ve been associated with the organization for more than 25 years!

What’s your role?

I am a senior research scientist with Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation and a professor in the department of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. My role is multifaceted in that I have research, development, teaching and administrative responsibilities both at Canadian Blood Services and at the University of Alberta. 

Note: Dr. Acker is the recipient of a 2018-19 Killam Professorship. We caught up with him at the International Society of Blood Transfusion congress held in Toronto in early June to ask him about this honour.

 

Where is your lab?

My research laboratory is located on the third floor of Canadian Blood Services’ Edmonton Centre.

Tell us about your area(s) of research.

My research focuses on three distinct areas:

  1. Studying how cells and tissues respond when they are stored outside the body. Our general approach involves examining the natural world to learn how plants and animals survive extreme environmental stress and then assessing the application of these adaptations for clinical medicine. This has enabled us to improve methods for storing cells and tissues for transfusion and transplantation.
  2. Understanding the many factors that influence the safety and quality of blood products in Canada. Donated blood is processed into blood components (red blood cells, platelets, plasma and plasma products) that are tested and stored before being transfused. Safety and quality may be influenced by donor factors (e.g. sex or age of the donor), how the blood is processed into components, storage times before transfusion, and ultimately how the blood products are used in the hospital. We are working to evaluate and understand these influences.
  3. Developing new diagnostic technologies. For the first 10 years of my research career at Canadian Blood Services, we were involved in developing new ways to identify blood groups and test for infectious diseases. We used the same process that is used to manufacture computer chips (microfabrication), to build “lab on a chip” microfluidics devices with miniaturized channels, pumps, valves, and detectors, which can be used to manipulate samples for testing. We initially used this technology for malaria testing of blood donors and for testing maternal blood for fetal DNA to aid in diagnosing hemolytic disease of the newborn. More recently, our “lab on a chip” technology has been expanded to additional applications including environmental monitoring, human and veterinary medicine, and food safety.

 

What are you working on now?

We are currently working with collaborators to understand how donor factors (age, sex, ethnicity, frequency of donation) and changes to donor screening affect the quality of red blood cell products. Our focus has been on understanding the biological effects that donor-associated changes have on blood components to determine if changes to donor screening, blood component manufacturing or storage can be used to enhance the safety and quality of our blood products. We are contributing to national studies linking data about donors, products and recipient outcomes. This information can inform clinical studies to better understand transfusion and blood product utilization. In addition, we are working with international partners to develop innovative tools to examine the effects of donor factors on the quality of blood cells. 

Read more about the effects of donor factors on transfusion outcome:

A major project within our group has been the development and evaluation of new synthetic compounds that can be used to control how and where ice formation occurs in cell and tissue systems that are frozen. We are using these nature-inspired compounds to help improve the processing efficiency, stability and post-thaw quality of red blood cells, platelets, stem cells and other cell and tissue therapies. We plan to expand this work to look at using these compounds to extend the storage time of complex tissues and organs.

In addition to our discovery research activities, we support the medical officers and our supply chain colleagues on various internal development projects. Currently, we are evaluating a new genotyping test that would allow us to determine a baby’s blood group from DNA present in a mother’s blood sample. This may change how prenatal testing is performed.

We are also working to optimize our practices to reduce transfusion-associated graft-versus-host disease (TA-GVHD), a rare but dangerous transfusion complication in which white blood cells from the transfused blood product begin to attack the recipient’s tissues. White blood cells are removed from blood components during manufacturing, but a small number may remain in the transfused blood product. These are normally destroyed by the recipient’s immune system, but patients who are immune-compromised are at risk of developing TA-GVHD. Currently, these patients are transfused with red blood cells that have been irradiated to inactivate white blood cells. We are examining whether irradiation is still needed after implementing red blood cell processing methods that greatly reduce the number of white blood cells in the transfused unit.

Why did you get into science?                          

Right from my early years, I have always been fascinated with puzzles. Whether they are mechanical puzzles, logical puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, or scientific/technical puzzles, I am drawn to try and understand how to solve them. This sparked my desire not only to solve tough technical problems, but also to understand the scientific basis for the solution so that I could make solving the next puzzle easier. I was naturally attracted to science as it provided the tools (the scientific method) and the knowledge that is often necessary to be able to answer the hard questions and solve the tough problems!

What inspires you?

What gets me up in the morning is the knowledge that through the work of my team and my collaborators, we are able to have a direct impact on the lives of patients. The technical and scientific support we provide helps the organization make critical decisions about the quality of the products that we are collecting, manufacturing and distributing. Our basic discovery work can translate into new processes, technologies or commercial products. Unlike an artist whose impact may not be realized until late in life or even well after death, as a research scientist with Canadian Blood Services we can look back at our accomplishments every year and see how we have had the opportunity to have an impact on the lives of Canadians.

I also gain great inspiration from working with really smart, engaged and motivated students and colleagues.  There is nothing more infectious than the energy that comes from interacting with a diverse team of people with broad experiences and knowledge that are collectively working together to solve hard problems.

What do you find most exciting about your work?

The unknown. As the old saying goes, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” To use the puzzle analogy, often we find ourselves with a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle and have no idea what the final picture should look like. This can be both exciting, as you put together the pieces and slowly develop a better idea of what the truth looks like, and terrifying, because there is no guarantee that you will be able to put all the pieces together. Sometimes we have to abandon the puzzle and come back to it after we learn more about how some of the pieces might fit together. Often we are surprised by what we learn in the process. But the feeling you get from putting two pieces of the puzzle together… that is really exciting. 

What work are you most proud of?

Through our research we have been able to develop better methods to evaluate the impact that donor factors, manufacturing and storage have on the quality of blood products and patient outcomes. This has informed policies and practices around the appropriate use of blood products for specific patient groups in Canada and around the world, and has led to the development of specialized products for use in transfusion and transplantation medicine. I am very proud to have the opportunity to work with an outstanding team of trainees, scientific and medical colleagues, industry partners and Canadian Blood Services staff (supply chain, IT and quality control) on projects to support innovative changes in transfusion medicine.

Read more about manufacturing methods that affect quality:

ResearchUnit: Data mining: Digging for deeper understanding of blood components and transfusion outcomes

RED blog post: How it’s made matters: Manufacturing method linked to cellular damage in red blood cells

When you’re not in the lab where could we find you?

Just look up…as a pilot and chief flying instructor at my local soaring club, I spend my weekends either teaching people how to fly gliders or heading out on my own across the Alberta prairies for a “dance amongst the clouds”. There is no greater joy than silently soaring under a puffy cumulus cloud with a hawk off your wing tip! I’ve been flying airplanes and teaching people to fly for 30 years and this year I had the privilege of seeing my 16-year-old daughter fly solo for the first time.

 

 

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Subscribe to the Research & Education Round Up to stay up to date on research publications and funding opportunities.

Visit our Funded Research Projects page to view projects funded by Canadian Blood Services.

 

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Meet the researcher: Dr. Donald Branch


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

For this instalment of “Meet the researcher”, we met with Dr. Donald Branch, a scientist at Canadian Blood Services who studies infectious diseases and immunology.    

How long have you been with Canadian Blood Services?

I started with the Canadian Red Cross at the Edmonton Blood Centre in December 1985. I was recruited there by the medical director, Dr. Jean-Michel Turc, to do a PhD in the department of immunology at the University of Alberta and to use my expertise in transfusion medicine as a consultant for the researchers and staff at the Edmonton Centre.

After completing my PhD, I moved to a position as a scientist at the College Street Blood Centre under the supervision of Dr. Roslyn Herst. When Canadian Blood Services took over as the blood supplier for Canada (Quebec excepted), I remained a scientist within their Research and Development division. Presently, I am the "grand old man" within the Centre for Innovation as, all told, I have spent more than 32 years working in blood services in Canada.

What’s your role?

My role within the Centre for Innovation has been, since the beginning, a discovery scientist. I am an eclectic biomedical research scientist with a curiosity for unraveling the mysteries of nature. My expertise in HIV, molecular signalling, blood transfusions and immunology helps Canadian Blood Services provide the safest blood possible. I‘m a certified specialist in blood banking (SBB) and radiation safety officer (RSO), which allows me to support the operational activities of Canadian Blood Services.

 

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Where is your lab?

I have three laboratory spaces. One is at the Canadian Blood Services' College Street Blood Centre in Toronto, one is at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, and one, a laboratory for working with potentially dangerous viruses and bacteria, is at the University of Toronto.

Tell us about your area(s) of research.

Projects in my labs include:

  1. Investigating the HIV infection process with the aim to discover new cellular targets that could be used to design alternative therapies for HIV/AIDS. We are also studying drugs currently approved for use in other diseases, such as cancer, to determine whether those drugs could be repurposed for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
  2. Clarifying the roles of the signalling molecules SHP-1 and c-SRC in cancer and HIV infection.
  3. Learning more about how intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) is used to treat autoimmune diseases, with the goal of developing new alternative therapies. In this regard, we are collaborating with a company to test recombinant (lab-generated) proteins that are as effective as, or more effective than, IVIg.
  4. Helping hospitals select the safest donor blood for transfusion using a test that I pioneered in the 1980s called the monocyte monolayer assay (MMA).

What are you working on now?

  • Comparing the efficacy of IVIg and a recombinant protein for treating the autoimmune disorders immune thrombocytopenia and rheumatoid arthritis, using mouse models for these human diseases.
  • Examining whether we can modify IVIg to increase its safety.
  • Studying the signalling molecules important for HIV to infect T-cells (immune cells).
  • Continuing to optimize the MMA for use as a clinical diagnostic test.
  • Investigating the role of the immune system in red blood cell death.
Further reading

RED blog post: The wonder drug you’ve probably never heard of – yet

RED blog post: Through the Microscope: monocyte monolayer assays

ResearchUnit: Mastering the monocyte monolayer assay

UHN News: Type Cast - Study reveals that blood type influences the outcomes of a widely used medical treatment

Why did you get into science?

I was born and raised in the Napa Valley in California. As far back as I can remember, I had only keen interest in science: dinosaurs, cloud chambers, plants and animals. With my first Gilbert Chemistry set in hand when I was around four years old, I drove my parents crazy with chemical reactions; I learned about saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal early on. During middle school, I obtained the first rocket launching permit in the Napa Valley, which drove my father nuts. He was afraid I would start a fire with my rockets and rocket fuel, which I made myself from zinc dust and sulfur. In high school, a special class was organized, just for me and one other person in the school, for doing special science experiments without direct supervision. We were told it would cost too much to make a rocket propelled go-cart, so we decided to produce a very pure laughing gas — just before physical education class.

While majoring in chemistry in university, I was approached by Andre Tchelistcheff (now considered one of the world’s greatest winemakers) to be his winemaker apprentice, but in the late 1960s I wasn’t interested in wine making. Instead, I was focused on winning a Nobel Prize in chemistry. So, rather than becoming a world-famous winemaker, I kept my focus on science and it's been a great ride. I first got into science more than 60 years ago and my interest in science hasn’t waned.

 

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What inspires you?

Serendipity inspires me. Great science and scientists inspire me. Scientists such as Linus Pauling and Albert Einstein are my heroes. I’ve met several scientists who have won a Nobel Prize for their work in medicine and physiology, and these individuals inspire me not only because of their major discoveries and their imaginations but also because of their humble natures.

What do you find most exciting about your work?

The most exciting part of science is that when you do good science, you get more questions than you get answers, which means it is never boring. It is always exciting, especially when you discover something solely by accident (or serendipity). I also appreciate that a hypothesis cannot be proven. You can only disprove an idea. There is no end to imagination; new ideas, theories, experiments and discoveries occur often and provide a level of excitement to which many other professions cannot attest.

What work are you most proud of?

I am proud of all my work but my discovery of mixed hematopoietic chimerism is one that I am most proud. Mixed hematopoietic chimerism occurs when a stem cell transplant recipient’s original stem cells regrow despite being irradiated before the transplant. This causes the patient to have a combination of blood cells with different genetic backgrounds: some generated by the recipient’s original stem cells and some from the donor’s transplanted stem cells. Mixed hematopoietic chimerism can be a sign that the leukemia has relapsed; however, it also creates immune tolerance to prevent the transplanted stem cells from attacking the recipient's tissues. Because of this immune tolerance effect, many researchers are currently trying to induce mixed hematopoietic chimerism in patients awaiting solid organ transplants.

My invention of a reagent that modifies red blood cells for use in antibody testing made me quite proud; this reagent is now sold commercially and used in transfusion labs throughout the world. My pioneering work with the MMA over the years has also given me great pride, as well as a few awards.

Most importantly, I am very proud of the many students (high school, undergraduate and graduate), postdoctoral fellows and medical doctors that I have mentored over the years. Also, the various colleagues and collaborators, technicians and other staff that I have been lucky to know and interact with are a source of great pride for me.

When you’re not in the lab where could we find you?

I’m a news junkie, so you can find me watching CNN at home with a glass of fine California cabernet. You may also find me cooking something tasty. With a Swiss–Italian background, plenty of garlic and wine goes on the meats and into the sauces.

 

Subscribe to the Research & Education Round Up to stay up to date on research publications and funding opportunities. 

Visit our Funded Research Projects page to view projects funded by Canadian Blood Services.


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.

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Expand your knowledge with professional education


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Curious about the research happening at Canadian Blood Services?

Hear from the researchers in their own words through our KnowledgeInfusion video series.

Knowledge dissemination is a vital step needed for research to be translated into new applications and improved processes. Through our Centre for Innovation, Canadian Blood Services conducts and supports research related to transfusion medicine and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. KnowledgeInfusion webinars disseminate our research findings to Canadian Blood Services staff, helping them learn about exciting new discoveries and understand how they can be applied to address the organization’s challenges. The presentations are also recorded and shared on our Professional Education website to reach a broader audience.

The KnowledgeInfusion series highlights research that is presented by Canadian Blood Services researchers at major national and international conferences and that affects Canadian Blood Services’ operations. They span a broad range of topics. For example, presentations have included the following:

  • Using a risk-based decision-making tool to guide our response to emerging transfusion-transmitted diseases
  • Developing a way to increase hospitals’ awareness of best practices in transfusion medicine
  • Working with international collaborators to improve Canadian Blood Services' efficiency

Read more

At our most recent KnowledgeInfusion event, we heard from three researchers whose studies have informed the implementation of “seven-day platelets” at Canadian Blood Services. Dr. Sandra Ramirez-Arcos, a development scientist, described the changes to the bacterial detection algorithm and how it will improve the safety of our platelet products. Dr. Peter Schubert, a research associate working with Dr. Dana Devine, presented his research about the effects of extending the shelf life on platelet quality. Finally, Kristyn Reid, a graduate student working with Dr. John Blake, described how the extended shelf life will affect platelet product inventory and wastage. Attendees agreed that the event was applicable to their work, with one survey respondent commenting, “Since I worked on the configuration of the changes to implement seven-day platelets, it was nice to know the scientific background associated with the initiative.”

The KnowledgeInfusion program helps our research community increase the exposure of their research and connect with operations staff. It also provides an opportunity for trainees to develop their presentation skills by sharing their work with a different audience than they would find at a scientific conference.

Read more about these changes to platelet shelf life:

What else is on the Professional Education website?

Many valuable resources for the transfusion community! The content is regularly updated by experts in the field and is available in English and French.

 

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Explore the Professional Education website to learn more. If you have any questions about the content or suggestions for improvement, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us.


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.

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Meet the Researcher: Dr. Sandra Ramirez-Arcos


Wednesday, February 07, 2018

This week, we catch up with Dr. Sandra Ramirez-Arcos, Canadian Blood Services’ development scientist and head of the microbiology laboratory in Ottawa.

How long have you been with Canadian Blood Services?

I started working at Canadian Blood Services on November 10, 2003, so it will be 15 years in November 2018!

What’s your role?

I am a Development Scientist in the Process and Products Development group at the Centre for Innovation. Development scientists conduct applied research to tackle some of the challenges faced by Canadian Blood Services during the processing of blood products. My role is focused on keeping the blood products safe from bacterial contamination.

 

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Where is your lab?

I am the head of the microbiology laboratory, which is located at Canadian Blood Services’ Head Office in Ottawa, ON.

Tell us about your area(s) of research.

The development work carried out in the microbiology lab aims to improve the safety of blood components that are used for transfusion and transplantation. We validate and assist Canadian Blood Services in implementing methods for microbial screening of platelets and other blood components, including stem cells and cord blood.

We also work with industry partners to evaluate new technologies used for the detection of microbial contamination.

In parallel to the development work, I supervise undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows on projects of a more basic nature. For example, we explore the dynamics of bacterial growth during storage of blood components, with a major focus on platelets. This discovery research increases our understanding of the biology involved in bacterial growth and helps us develop new ways to prevent or detect bacterial contamination.

In collaboration with national and international scientists, we have developed extensive expertise around bacteria that form surface-attached communities known as biofilms. Bacterial biofilm formation during platelet storage may negatively affect detection of bacteria with routine screening and increase the bacteria’s ability to cause disease.

What are you working on now?

We are currently working on multiple projects of great importance. In the area of bacterial testing of platelet units, we are working to support the implementation of an in-house method to follow up on bacterial cultures obtained from platelet products that routine screening identifies as contaminated with bacteria. All platelet units that test positive in the routine screen must be re-tested to confirm whether or not bacteria are present. Currently, the bacterial cultures obtained during initial testing and re-testing are done by a third party.

 

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Dr. Ramirez  in the lab with the BacT/ALERT bacterial screening system.

Doing this testing in-house instead is very important because it will allow us to have timely results and release to the hospitals the other blood components (red blood cells and plasma) collected from the same donor if the initial result was a false positive and the platelets are not actually contaminated with bacteria. My group is doing the work needed to validate and implement this follow-up testing in-house.

Additionally, we are participating in a project aimed at performing bacterial testing of red blood cell units in a way that doesn’t damage the product. Currently, testing for bacterial growth in red blood cell units is done on a small percentage of units that have been set aside for this purpose and are not available for transfusion.

This testing takes place after 42 days of storage and confirms that our processes and storage conditions do not allow bacteria to grow in the red blood cell units. If we could avoid setting aside units exclusively for testing after 42 days and develop a method to test for bacteria early during storage, it would reduce product waste due to testing and could allow testing of a larger number of units, which could ultimately improve our ability to detect products contaminated with bacteria.

We are also leading an international study to collect data regarding bacterial growth in units of thawed plasma that are stored in a refrigerator and exposed to uncontrolled temperatures during storage. These studies have the goal of increasing efficiency at Canadian Blood Services and other blood operators without compromising the safety and quality of blood components.

Why did you get into science?                                              

I have always felt passionate and curious about biology and discovering new things. Ever since I was a child, there was little doubt that I would study and work in science.

What inspires you?

The unknown — I’m inspired by the need to advance knowledge and discover whether (or not) a specific hypothesis can be proven.

What do you find most exciting about your work?

That we can bring change to practice. Every little or big project we are involved in has the goal of generating data to make decisions. I am thrilled each time we can provide an answer and the organization can move forward.

What work are you most proud of?

Almost everything I do makes me feel proud. If I must mention two big accomplishments of the microbiology lab in the last decade, I would say that providing evidence that helped in extending the 30-minute rule for red blood cells to 60 minutes was very important for me. Also, our work on bacterial biofilm formation during platelet storage has had great international recognition. Both projects make me especially proud because we have been pioneers in their research and knowledge translation.

 

Learn more about extending the 30-minute rule:

When you’re not in the lab where could we find you?

Most likely spending quality time with my husband and 10-year-old son. You could also find me in a yoga class, at a movie theater, or curled up reading a book.

 

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Dr. Ramirez and family on vacation in the Caribbean.

Subscribe to the Research & Education Round Up to stay up to date on research publications and funding opportunities. 

Visit our Funded Research Projects page to view projects funded by Canadian Blood Services.


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.

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International researchers collaborate to understand trends in blood product use


Thursday, November 02, 2017

Canadian Blood Services currently has a special need for O-negative donors. And we aren’t alone — many blood operators worldwide have recently increased their efforts to recruit O-negative blood donors.

 

Why are O-negative donors in such high demand?

Matched (or group specific) blood is always preferred for transfusion; however, O-negative blood can be transfused to recipients who have any ABO blood type (A, B, AB or O) and Rh type (positive or negative). This makes them vital for emergency transfusions when the recipient’s blood type is unknown, or if ABO-matched and/or Rh-matched blood products are unavailable for a patient in need.

Inventory management is a daily challenge for blood operators and hospitals to ensure adequate supply of each blood type so that any patient at any time can be safely transfused. Maintaining an adequate inventory of O negative blood can be even more challenging for the following reasons:

  • Challenge #1: Red blood cell products are manufactured from whole blood collected from donors (yes – volunteer donors) and only 7 per cent of Canadians are O-negative. While blood operators specifically target this small donor population, there are not many of them and, for their safety, there are limitations to how often they can donate.
  • Challenge #2: Red blood cell products can only be stored for 42 days (yes – the eggs in your fridge might last longer!), so the need to collect is ongoing.
  • Challenge #3: While improved transfusion practice in hospitals is leading to an overall decline in red blood cell utilization (yes – physicians are transfusing less), we are only starting to appreciate the important nuances of this decline and how they impact inventory management.
  • Challenge #4: Many transfusions are done in emergency situations, when the blood type of the recipient is often unknown. Large quantities of O-negative blood are sometimes needed to save the lives of these patients.

Read more about how hospital blood banks manage their blood product inventory in  "Not Your Average Bank"

How is research shedding light on red blood cell inventory?

Researchers at our Centre for Innovation are working with international colleagues to better understand the patterns of red blood cell distribution and use. Studies like these can help inform health-care providers worldwide about the optimal donor collection strategy and the distribution and use of O-negative blood products, reducing the risk of shortages in the future.

In a long term Trends for Collection (TFC) study, an international group of researchers that included Canadian Blood Services’ chief medical and scientific officer, Dr. Dana Devine, compared the numbers of red blood cells distributed to hospitals by blood services in several countries including Canada. They found that blood centers are distributing less red blood cells to hospitals and that this may be attributed to the excellent Patient Blood Management programs implemented in hospitals. However, this downward trend is not the same for all blood types. In fact, the proportion of O-negative blood distributed to hospitals increased during the same period. The reasons for this were not examined in this study, but could be caused by factors such as hospitals’ desire to maintain a flexible inventory or a possible increased use in emergency transfusion.

Dr. Michelle Zeller, a medical officer at Canadian Blood Services, and Prof. Nancy Heddle, one of our adjunct scientists, collaborated with Canadian and international researchers to determine why Type O blood is being used more often. Dr. Zeller and Prof. Heddle are part of the McMaster Centre for Transfusion Research, which is supported by the Centre for Innovation. Their GRoup O Utilization Patterns (GROUP) study surveyed hospitals in 11 countries and showed that a large percentage of O-negative blood products are used for patients who are not O-negative. Interestingly, this percentage varied at different sites, suggesting that hospitals with higher use of O-negative blood might be able to alter their policies to decrease non-essential use of this precious resource.

 

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What is the research impact?

While the GROUP study was being undertaken, five participating sites re-evaluated their policy of giving O-negative blood to all patients with unknown blood type in an emergency setting, and implemented new policies to decrease their use of O-negative blood.

What is BEST?

Both of these studies were carried out in collaboration with the Biomedical Excellence for Safer Transfusion (BEST) Collaborative, an international research organization that aims to improve the safety of transfusion around the world. Canadian Blood Services is an active partner with the BEST Collaborative and this year our researchers have contributed to 9 of the 15 papers published by BEST. International studies allow “big-data” analysis of complex systems. Hospital and blood service policies may differ greatly between countries, allowing researchers to identify which policies are best for patient safety and for more efficient inventory management.

Other recent studies from Centre for Innovation researchers in collaboration with BEST:


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.

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Canadian transfusion community converges in Ottawa for annual meeting


Thursday, May 04, 2017

This post was written with contributions from Dr. Miguel Neves, a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Heyu Ni’s Centre for Innovation lab at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Transfusion For All Ages,” the 2017 Canadian Society for Transfusion Medicine (CSTM) annual meeting organized in partnership between CSTM, Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec, was recently held in Ottawa. We’ve gathered a few highlights from this annual gathering that brought together hundreds of transfusion medicine professionals. Check out the CSTM 2017 Photo Gallery.

An inspiring keynote lecture by Juno award-winning musician and creativity expert David Usher encouraged the audience to push boundaries, innovate by moving out of comfort zones, explore ideas and solve problems by looking at them from different perspectives. His powerful storytelling combined with his musical talents resonated with many and made for a great ‘upbeat’ start to the meeting.

 

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The scientific program covered topics around the efficiency of blood and blood product utilization as well as advances in new therapies. Dr. John Freedman, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and the former director of transfusion medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital, discussed the importance of patient blood management, a multidisciplinary approach to optimizing the use of blood products while ensuring optimal transfusion patient outcomes.

Dr. David Lillicrap, a professor at Queen’s University and Canada Research Chair in Molecular Hemostasis, explained current challenges with Hemophilia A and took us on a fascinating tour of the latest advances in emerging therapies based on bioengineered proteins and genetic engineering.

Dr. Denis-Claude Roy, a professor at the Université de Montréal and the director of the Center of Excellence in Cellular Therapy, spoke about CellCAN and highlighted the many cellular therapies clinical trials that are ongoing in Canada. One of those trials was presented by Dr. Lauralyn McIntyre, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa and a critical care physician at the Ottawa Hospital, who is leading a study to evaluate the efficacy of using stem cells to treat septic shock. Dr. McIntyre’s study is supported by the Centre for Innovation and was highlighted in an earlier blog post.

In addition to helping with planning and organizing the meeting, Canadian Blood Services staff contributed greatly to the content by moderating 12 sessions, delivering 25 invited oral presentations and abstracts, and presenting 47 posters that are published in the CSTM abstract book. Of note were the honours awarded to Dr. Jason Acker, who received the Ortho Award, and Bonnie Lewis, who won Best Abstract, which we highlighted in this blog last week.

Dr. William Sheffield moderated the session entitled “Research Highlights: Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec” featuring four excellent speakers including two from our Center for Innovation. Dr. Nicolas Pineault described his research with new freezing solutions that may improve the recovery of umbilical cord blood stem cells after frozen storage and thus improve engraftments in patients. Dr. Alan Lazarus discussed the current state of affairs with IVIg substitutes that, one day, may make us less dependent on IVIg, which is costly and in limited supply.

The contribution of our scientists continued onto the Selected Oral Abstracts-Scientific session where three of the six talks featured work supported by the Centre. Dr. Heyu Ni discussed the mechanisms of immune thrombocytopenia (ITP), a condition that is responsible for the use of a vast amount of IVIg. Dr. Ni’s postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Miguel Neves, talked about their recent advances in the detection of antibodies involved in ITP, which could lead to more appropriate use of IVIg. Dr. William Sheffield discussed work from his group that demonstrates how early γ‐irradiation of red blood cells accelerates the red cell stress‐induced cell death, which may potentially diminish post‐transfusion clinical benefits.

 

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Left to right: Drs. William Sheffield, Jeff Keirnan, and Mia Golder. Photo credit: CSTM 2017 photo gallery. 

 In addition to the many opportunities to share knowledge and develop new collaborations, the Friday evening’s poster session once again turned out to be a great networking opportunity along with the social events organized throughout the conference.

 

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These are just a few highlights from what was a truly engaging conference program. There were so many outstanding presentations we simply don’t have room to cover them all.

In June 2018, the ISBT Congress will be held in Toronto in conjunction with annual conference of the CSTM.

Further reading

Celebrating innovation at CSTM 2017

 


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration.

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services.

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Developing safer drugs for heart attack and stroke patients


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

 

 

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Platelets are essential for the formation of blood clots to stop bleeding. However, if platelets are activated when they’re not supposed to be, a clot can form within a blood vessel, blocking blood flow. These clots can cause medical emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes, which are major causes of illness and death worldwide.

Current therapies to treat and prevent blood clot formation are associated with potentially dangerous bleeding side effects. Researchers at Canadian Blood Services are working on developing new drugs that don’t have these side effects but still provide effective treatment. The findings from two of our research projects were recently published in high-quality peer-reviewed journals (Blood and the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis).

 

β3 integrin - Dr. Heyu Ni 

Dr. Heyu Ni is a Scientist with the Canadian Blood Services Centre for Innovation. His research team located at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science at St. Michael's Hospital developed a “designer antibody” that targets an important protein in platelets: β3 integrin. β3 integrin is essential for platelets to clump together and form a blood clot.

They found that blocking the activity of β3 integrin with their new antibody prevented blood clots in animal models. Interestingly, this antibody did not cause significant bleeding side effects, unlike other drugs currently used to treat and prevent blood clots.

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If clinical trials with this new antibody show similarly positive results, this research could lead to a new drug that treats clotting with minimal side effects. This would be tremendously valuable for Canadian patients living with cardiovascular disease. Dr. Ni’s group is continuing to develop this new antibody for future clinical trials.

 

Factor Xa - Dr. Ed Pryzdial and Dr. William Sheffield 

Another research group, led by our own Dr. Pryzdial at the Centre for Blood Research at UBC with assistance from another Centre for Innovation researcher, Dr. Sheffield located at McMaster University, took a different approach. They looked at the molecules surrounding blood clots and discovered that one molecule that helps clots form, factor Xa, also helps clots dissolve. However, before factor Xa can acquire its clot-dissolving function, it must bind to the clot. As a result, a drug based on factor Xa may be able to help dangerous clots dissolve without causing harmful bleeding throughout the body.

This group found that their new drug was effective at dissolving clots in a mouse model. Unlike mice treated with currently approved clot-dissolving drugs, mice treated with the new drug did not show signs of clot-dissolving activity throughout the body. The new drug also acted as an anticoagulant to slow clot formation in mice.

Like the antibody developed by Dr. Ni’s group, this new drug based on factor Xa will need to be tested carefully in clinical trials before it can help Canadian patients, but these early results are very promising. Read more about this study in our January Research Unit.

What's next? 

Both of these projects provide examples of how Centre for Innovation research could be mobilized into new drugs for the benefit of Canadian patients, returning value to our funders. With respect to current Canadian Blood Services operations, both discoveries could one day improve the utilization of blood products by reducing the need for cardiac surgery.

 

A plain language summary by Tyler Stratton and Yiming Wang in Dr. Ni's research group supported the development of this post.


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration.

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.

 

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Providing safe transfusions in the developing world


Thursday, February 23, 2017

When someone loses a lot of blood or has blood that doesn’t work properly, transfusions are critical for saving that person’s life. In Canada, Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec work hard to provide a very safe and — thanks to our generous blood donors — consistent supply of blood products for transfusions.

But how can a hospital deliver safe blood transfusions in a country where…

  • There aren’t enough units of blood available to transfuse everyone who needs it?
  • Serious transfusion-transmissible infections such as HIV and malaria are common?
  • Funding for staff, equipment and supplies is inadequate and inconsistent?

Dr. Heather Hume knows all about these challenges. Dr. Hume, a professor at the University of Montreal and former executive medical director for Canadian Blood Services, works six months every year as a pediatric hematologist at the Mulago National Referral Hospital in Uganda. She recently visited Canadian Blood Services to share her experiences with staff at a Knowledge Infusion learning event. 

Shortage of blood products

In the large Ugandan hospital where Dr. Hume works, there are many days when there is no group O blood available for transfusions. The blood supply is very limited and quickly overwhelmed by the demand; blood is frequently needed to save the lives of mothers with postpartum hemorrhaging (more than 30,000 babies are delivered each year at the Mulago National Referral Hospital) and victims of traffic accidents.

Many cultural and systemic factors contribute to the low rate of blood donation in Uganda. There is widespread misinformation about the risks of donating blood, and many people are unable to donate due to their HIV status or other health conditions. As a result, Uganda has a critically low supply of blood available for transfusions.

Challenge of providing safe transfusions

Ug-mapIn Sub-Saharan Africa, including Uganda, high rates of HIV and other transfusion-transmissible infections are a major obstacle to providing safe blood products for transfusions. In Uganda, about 7 per cent of the adult population is living with HIV – 35 times the rate in Canada (0.2 per cent).

Because even the most sophisticated tests are not perfect, the risk of HIV infection from a transfusion is very real in Uganda. That risk is far, far lower in Canada (estimated at 1 in 21 million). Our eligibility criteria are frequently reviewed and updated to ensure that they are based on the most up-to-date scientific knowledge available. The donor screening process in Uganda is difficult because (1) many people infected with HIV do not fall into easily identifiable categories; (2) risky behaviours are highly stigmatized; and (3) many people do not know their HIV status. As a result, almost one in a hundred blood donations in Uganda tests positive for HIV.

Even if the blood products are safe, they may be delivered in an unsafe way. For example, transfusing the correct blood type is critical for the recipient’s safety — but the blood type of the donor and/or recipient are often mislabelled because systems are not fully automated and patients do not have ID bands. It is sometimes challenging to correctly identify patients because Ugandan culture places less importance on birthdates and consistent spelling of names. A patient might spell her name differently each time she is asked; another patient may not know his date of birth. Making things more challenging, many Ugandan names have very similar spelling.

Limited resources

Even when there is blood available for transfusion, limited resources can cause problems. To provide safe transfusions, health-care providers require laboratory equipment for testing and processing donor blood, medical equipment to collect and transfuse the blood, and various consumable materials. This can be difficult when budgets are extremely limited and delivery systems are unreliable. As a result, important blood tests are sometimes not done.

Higher-income countries have helped provide both funding and material support. For example, when Canadian Blood Services recently amalgamated its labs and no longer needed a machine used for certain blood tests, it was donated to the Mulago National Referral Hospital. However, this strategy has its own challenges, such as adapting the donated equipment to the local environment (for example, different voltage requirements), and funds may be so limited that paying to transport and maintain a donated machine is not feasible. It may also be difficult to keep the machine consistently supplied with the blood test reagents needed – even something as simple as saline has been a challenge. 

Moving forward

Health-care providers in low-income countries will always have many challenges. However, much has improved over the past few decades, and there is much more work still to be done.

Blood safety experts around the world contribute to global improvements in transfusion medicine by participating in regular meetings organized by the World Health Organization. These meetings are used to exchange knowledge, develop collaborations, and identify priority areas for improvement. One recent meeting (2013) had 250 participants including a representative from Canada (Dr. Marc Germain from Héma-Québec).

Blood products in Uganda are much safer than they used to be. The HIV prevalence in Uganda has fallen since 1990, when it was nearly 15 per cent. National campaigns that address stigma (such as home-based HIV counselling and testing) have increased voluntary HIV testing. The donor selection process has also been refined, cutting the percentage of HIV-positive Ugandan blood donors in half from 2004 to 2009. 

A cultural shift towards altruistic blood donation has been encouraged through blood drives and targeted campaigns. Education is underway to reduce donor fears and improve the safety and efficiency of transfusion processes. Technological advances may also help; new techniques that reduce pathogens such as HIV in plasma products are already used in many countries, although more research is needed before these can be used for other blood products.

As Dr. Hume says, we “often cannot use the same solutions as those we are used to in high income countries, but that does not necessarily mean that there is not a solution!”

Further reading:

A shared love of volunteerism, Queen's Alumni Review 2015 (p.46)

Platelet transfusion therapy in sub-Saharan Africa: bacterial contamination, recipient characteristics, and acute transfusion reactions in the journal Transfusion 15 April 2016.

 


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration.

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.

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Supporting vital research through our Centre for Innovation: Part 2


Wednesday, January 04, 2017

We are now accepting applications for the 2017 competition of our Intramural Research Grant (IRG) program!  

The IRG program provides a research funding opportunity that supports collaborative research projects related to the mission of Canadian Blood Services. Applicants may be Canadian Blood Services scientists, medical officers or adjunct scientists and must be organized into teams of at least two investigators. Teams may also include researchers who are not affiliated with Canadian Blood Services.

Canadian Blood Services’  IRG Research Priority Areas
  • Promoting appropriate blood product utilization
  • Ensuring an adequate blood product supply
  • Minimizing the adverse effects of blood product transfusion
  • Optimizing blood product quality
  • Replacing or improving blood products through new therapies or technologies

 

In the 2016 competition, Ontario-based researcher Dr. Kathryn Webert was a recipient of IRG funding. I wrote about two other recent IRG recipients in Supporting vital research through our Centre for Innovation: Part One.

Dr. Kathryn Webert – A multifaceted intervention to optimize red blood cell transfusion practice in two provinces

Dr. Webert is an associate professor with the department of medicine and the department of molecular medicine and pathology, an investigator with the McMaster Transfusion Research Program, and a medical director at Canadian Blood Services. Dr. Webert’s research interests include bleeding problems in stem cell transplant patients and optimizing the use of blood products.  She received IRG funding last year to improve transfusion guidelines in Ontario. 

People receive blood transfusions for many reasons including surgery, injury, cancer and blood diseases. In fact, one in ten hospitalized patients will receive at least one transfusion. But are all of these transfusions necessary? Recent evidence suggests that up to 20 per cent are not. Unnecessary transfusions have health risks for patients, put strain on the blood supply system and increase hospital costs.

Health-care providers decide whether to give transfusions based on the patient’s health status, amount of blood lost and blood hemoglobin levels. However, busy physicians may focus too much on laboratory test results without taking into account individual patient factors.

Dr. Webert’s project aims to reduce unnecessary transfusions and achieve a 90 per cent rate of “appropriate” transfusions (based on a recent peer-reviewed publication written by a group of researchers including Dr. Webert). The research team will do this by implementing blood transfusion guidelines in hospitals, educating nurses and doctors, initiating the screening of transfusion orders by medical laboratory technologists, and providing monthly feedback to physicians who have ordered unnecessary transfusions. Ensuring that transfusions are only given when required will reduce the risk to patients and improve the efficiency of the blood product supply system. 

 

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For this project, Dr. Webert is collaborating with researchers across Canada including Dr. Susan Nahirniak (University of Alberta), Dr. Yulia Lin (University of Toronto), Dr. Jeannie Callum (Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre), and Dr. Michelle Zeller (McMaster University). The IRG program encourages collaboration in pursuit of a shared goal: improving the safety, effectiveness and/or efficiency of the blood supply system.

 

Find out more about the other research Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation supports by reading our latest Progress Report or visiting Our Research Impact

Canadian Blood Services Centre for Innovation receives financial support from the federal government (Health Canada) and provincial and territorial ministries of health.


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration.

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.

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