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Innovation150 series: As Canada celebrates 150 years we look back on Canadian innovations in transfusion and transplantation medicine over the years. A series of posts feature remarkable Canadian progress - past, present and future.
In our first three #innovation150 posts on this blog, we brought readers back in time to the early days of Canadian transfusion medicine born out of wartime need during WW I and II, and then on to meet our mid-20th century blood-typing pioneers, as well as current work being done toward creating universal blood.
Our fourth post takes a look at a few projects underway today to make a better tomorrow for donors and for patients.
How it’s made matters
Dr. Jason Acker is a senior development scientist at our Centre for Innovation lab in Edmonton, Alberta. He's been working on a number of projects investigating the links between various aspects of red blood cells (production, collection and donor characteristics) and the impacts these may have on transfusion recipients. One project, published in 2016 in Vox Sanguinis, was the result of a cross-border collaboration with a research team led by Dr. Sonia Bakkour, a staff scientist in the molecular transfusion lab at Blood Systems Research Institute in San Francisco, California.
Data dig uncovers associations between donor characteristics and patient outcomes
Although the blood collection and red blood cell preparation processes are standardized, there are inherent differences in every red blood cell unit because each one comes from a unique, individual donor.
A unique collaboration between Canadian Blood Services, The Ottawa Hospital and Université Laval has led to some interesting and somewhat unexpected findings that open the door to new areas of research in transfusion medicine.
This study sought out to uncover associations between certain donor characteristics and patient outcomes. The findings have generated new research questions that will help us better understand “what’s inside the bag”.
The ability to link donor characteristics with patient outcomes has the potential to radically change how clinical practice is informed by research and large data analytics. A similar big data dig, in collaboration with Dr. Nancy Heddle at McMaster University, found some associations between manufacturing processes and patient outcome.
Meet Dr. Elisabeth Maurer who uses lasers to measure quality of platelets
Dr. Elisabeth Maurer’s years of research on platelet function led to a discovery about the temperature response of platelets. This discovery — coupled with advances in laser and optics technology — is being developed as a safe, quick and simple diagnostic test for microparticles in platelet units.
Microparticles are fragments of platelets that form during platelet activation and are therefore a good indicator of how much stress the platelets have experienced.
In November 2008, Dr. Maurer — formerly a scientist with Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation — founded a company called LightIntegra Technology to pursue development of this tool, ThromboLUX, that can be used to assess platelet quality and function.
Canadian Blood Services continues to support Dr. Mauer’s work by providing access to its netCAD blood for research facility in Vancouver.
Developing safer drugs for heart attack and stroke patients
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.
Factor Xa - Drs. Ed Pryzdial and 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.
Funding new projects – A peek at what advances tomorrow may bring…
As a medical director with our Cord Blood Bank and OneMatch programs, a scientist in the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research at The Ottawa Hospital and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, Dr. David Allan possesses a wealth of knowledge about clinical practice and research directions in blood- and bone marrow-based cellular therapies. He is also the current recipient of Canadian Blood Services’ Kenneth J. Fyke Award, which supports health services and policy research to promote the development of evidence-based Canadian practices and policies in transfusion, blood stem cell transplantation, and organ and tissue donation and transplantation for the benefit of Canadian patients.
Fostering the future of transfusion science research
What sorts of projects fall under the umbrella of “transfusion science”? Graduate Fellowship Program projects funded in a 2016–2017 funding competition included research on antibodies that could offer alternatives to intravenous immunoglobulins, additives for storage of red blood cells at -80°C, and the development of universal blood cells.
Graduate students apply for a fellowship to support their dissertation projects, and they are evaluated on the project’s alignment with Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation research priorities, the merit of the proposed research project, and their qualifications, as well as the quality of the environment they’re training in.
The Graduate Fellowship Program has a global reach with a national focus. Attracting applicants from all across Canada, the fellowship is open to students of all nationalities studying at a Canadian academic institution.
We hope you've enjoyed this brief look at innovation in transfusion past, present and future. Stay tuned to this space to learn more about the innovation and advances that lie ahead.
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.
Jenny is the Science Communications Specialist at Canadian Blood Services working out of head office in Ottawa. She works closely with the medical services and innovation division to interpret and showcase new research and discovery in transfusion and transplantation science.