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Meet the Researcher: Dr. Jelena Holovati

Tuesday, September 4, 2018 Dr. Geraldine Walsh

This week, we connected with Dr. Jelena Holovati about her work as a Canadian Blood Services adjunct scientist and her role as laboratory director of the Edmonton Stem Cell Manufacturing Program.

Where do you work and what is your role?

I’m an associate professor in the department of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I also hold Canadian Blood Services positions as a laboratory director for the Edmonton Stem Cell Manufacturing Program and as an adjunct scientist. By training, I'm a lab technologist – this background has served me really well in my current roles. 

How long have you been with Canadian Blood Services?Dr. Jelena Holovati

Since my undergraduate years at the University of Alberta! I was first introduced to Canadian Blood Services  in 2002, as a lab technology student working on a validation project in component production. This experience led me to the graduate program, during which I was supervised by two Canadian Blood Services’ scientists, Drs. McGann and Acker. My PhD thesis focused on innovative ways to cryopreserve red blood cells and I am grateful to have been supported by a Canadian Blood Services graduate fellowship award.

After I completed my PhD, I accepted a faculty position at the University of Alberta and started focusing my academic and professional interests in the fields of transfusion and transplantation medicine. I was so happy to be invited to join Canadian Blood Services as an adjunct scientist. Now I supervise graduate students working on Canadian Blood Services’ funded projects — so in a way I feel I have come full circle!

“Seeing all the wonderful things undergraduate and graduate students end up doing after I’ve had the privilege of mentoring and supporting them, even for a short while, makes me feel like I’m contributing to the development of tomorrow’s laboratory medicine leaders and visionaries.”

Tell us about your areas of research…

My primary research focuses on investigating innovative approaches to improve the red blood cell membrane during blood bank storage. The ultimate goal is to further improve the safety and quality of red blood cells for transfusion. For example, we are currently studying how to use liposomes — small membrane-bound vesicles — to mitigate red blood cell membrane damage that occurs during storage, and investigating the effects of a rejuvenating solution on the quality of stored red blood cells.

As laboratory director of the Edmonton Stem Cell Manufacturing Program, I am involved in multiple development, validation, and quality improvement projects in the hematopoietic stem cell laboratory. For example, in March 2017, we were the first lab in Canada to implement an automated process for plasma reduction during processing of hematopoietic stem cells, a change which improved stem cell product quality and safety for the patient.

What are you working on now?

Apart from my research work, during the university semester, I’m quite busy with teaching, marking midterms and sitting on candidacy exams. As an educator in the division of the medical laboratory science at the University of Alberta, I am involved in education and training of medical laboratory science and medical undergraduate students, residents, as well as MSc and PhD students in the graduate laboratory medicine program.

Learn more about Dr. Holovati’s recent research to improve the usefulness of a laboratory assay that can help find suitable blood donors for hard-to-match patients here.

Why did you get into science?

I was always drawn to health sciences, and it was actually a course in clinical microbiology that led me to study medical laboratory technology, which was such a perfect fit for me! I love the technical and analytical aspects of the lab, but knowing that there is a direct contribution to patient care makes it even more rewarding. 

What inspires you?

My students inspire me. Continuously rediscovering medical laboratory science through their eyes is just delightful! Also, seeing all the wonderful things these undergraduate and graduate students end up doing after I’ve had the privilege of mentoring and supporting them for, even for a short while, makes me feel like I’m contributing to the development of tomorrow’s laboratory medicine leaders and visionaries.

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

In a car, driving my two girls around to numerous after-school activities — it often feels like I have a part time job as their private Uber driver. Also, I recently discovered hot yoga and I’m really enjoying this practice. 

Dr. Holovati and family enjoying a Disney vacation


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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About the author

Dr. Geraldine Walsh

Dr. Geraldine Walsh is a scientific writer with the Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation. A PhD scientist with a passion for communication, Geraldine supports Canadian Blood Services’ research and development scientists with writing, editing and preparing manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Geraldine was captivated by the fascinating topic of blood during her graduate studies at The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (in Dublin, her hometown). During her PhD, she studied blood platelets, the little cell fragments that maintain the delicate balance between clotting and bleeding in our bodies. Today, her role as scientific writer allows her to combine a love of science with a love of writing and a real dedication to quality science communication.

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