Catherine Lewis

The science behind young blood


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Drinking the blood of the young, and thereby somehow capturing their youth, is a common literary trope. The ghoulish notion speaks to our cultural fascination with youth, but also to our dread of aging.

There’s no evidence-based therapy using the blood of young people to counteract or prevent the effects of aging, but young blood is an area where science might be beginning to imitate art — at least, sort of.

“When we talk about young blood, we’re really talking about two streams of work,” says Dr. Jason Acker, a senior scientist at Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation and professor at University of Alberta.

“There’s the more conventional work, looking at how donor factors influence characteristics of blood and outcomes for patients, then there’s another, perhaps more controversial one looking at whether blood from young donors can rejuvenate older patients.”

Thumbnail

Acker is doing the first stream of work. His team has been the first to show that red blood cells from young women are hardier and younger on average than those of men, and less likely to die during storage in the blood bag. This doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes for patients, though – that’s why Acker’s supporting a randomized control trial involving thousands of patients. The trial is tracking outcomes between sex-matched blood transfusions (i.e. female to female or male to male) and sex-mismatched transfusions.

The other type of work is born from studies that showed if you take a young rat and attach its circulation to an older rat (called “parabiosis”), the older rat got healthier and showed signs of rejuvenation. Was it getting younger?

“That kickstarted a renewed fascination with whether blood from young donors can rejuvenate older recipients,” says Acker. “Now there’s an explosion of research in the biology of aging, and we know there are naturally occurring molecules in the blood of young mice that, when injected into older mice, reproduces many of the regenerating effects from the parabiosis studies.”

The discovery of one of these molecules, growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11), became one of the journal Science’s top 10 breakthroughs of the year in 2014.

“So something that was originally presented in a very controversial way is now seeing science catch up as we identify new things,” Acker says.

There’s a lot of work going on in these areas, but these studies are with animals not people, and there is no proven safe and effective therapy to prevent or undo aging using young blood. This doesn’t stop some from trying, though — companies in the United States have offered “young plasma” transfusions under the guise of clinical trials, costing thousands of dollars to the recipient.

In summary, consider starving a vampire this spooky season by donating blood, and avoid unproven expensive “therapies” — because those are really scary. Happy Halloween!

Image
A graphic of a beaker with bats flying out of it, and the words "The science behind young blood"

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.

ShareTweetShare

Dr. Donald Branch honoured by AABB for his career achievements


Thursday, November 07, 2019

Dr. Donald Branch’s career shows a scientist driven by intellectual curiosity. From Gila monster venom to crocodile blood, from HIV to Ebola to huge discoveries improving outcomes for transfusion and transplantation patients, he pursues scientific questions and embraces all the twists and turns that path of inquiry may take.  

“There’s always something new that keeps the interest going,” he says. “It’s pretty hard to figure out nature — it has a way of throwing a wrench in things just when you think you have an answer. Then you have to keep looking. There’s always a new angle, a new hypothesis, that keeps you from getting bored.” 

Last month, Dr. Branch, a scientist at Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation and professor at the University of Toronto, received a prestigious international award honouring his more than 40 years of major contributions to transfusion medicine and hematology.  

At this year’s annual meeting of AABB, an international organization representing people and institutions involved in transfusion medicine and cellular therapies, Dr. Branch received the Tibor Greenwalt Memorial Award. It’s his third award from AABB, but he says he isn’t in it for the accolades.  

“As a scientist, we don’t do our work thinking we’re going to get any awards. I do my science because I like it. It’s fun, interesting and exciting at times; and you get to think of new questions about what is important in biological sciences and how things work,” he says.  

“It’s nice to get an award, because it says what you’ve been doing for fun these last 40 years has paid off — people have found value in it. You have to have a thick skin in research. You have to be able to accept rejection and criticism, especially when you’re writing grants and papers. The work itself is interesting and exciting, but trying to advance the field can be difficult. When you actually get an award for something you’ve done, it’s meaningful because it represents years of hard work and overcoming some of the criticisms and roadblocks along the way.”  

Dr. Branch’s proudest accomplishment is being the first scientist to describe mixed hematopoietic chimerism, a state where after a bone marrow transplant both the recipient and donor’s cells exist together harmoniously in the blood. Published in 1982, Dr. Branch’s finding has been confirmed and generated more than 1200 related publications. Where there is mixed hematopoietic chimerism, there is little if any graft-versus-host disease, and this fact has led other scientists to explore this phenomenon for recipients of other types of transplants, such as hearts, livers, lungs, and kidneys. Introducing mixed hematopoietic chimerism into transplant recipients may lead to them not needing anti-rejection medication.  

“The general thinking at the time was that following bone marrow transplantation where myeloablation (a severe reduction in the ability of a patient’s bone marrow to produce new blood cells) was the protocol, if you begin to see the blood cells increasing in population, you’ve obtained engraftment of the donor stem cells. I found this wasn’t necessarily true. You could have the patient’s own stem cells come back and repopulate the patient, sometimes with no donor cells detectable for long periods of time; so, more genetic testing needed to be done to determine which cells, the patient’s or the donor’s, or both were coming back. This finding was something very new; this was the first time it had been reported,” he says.  

What’s next for Dr. Branch? He has many projects on the go, including one investigating whether HIV/AIDS could be a neuropeptide disease, and another looking at a little-understood phenomenon in some sickle cell disease patients. Many sickle cell patients require regular blood transfusions. After a red blood cell transfusion, hemoglobin levels typically increase and taper off gradually over time. Hyperhemolysis is a life-threatening reaction to blood transfusions in sickle cell patients where instead of staying increased, hemoglobin increases briefly, then crashes lower than even the initial level. This can happen within a matter of hours, and with further transfusions it can happen repeatedly.  

“We don’t know why this happens to some patients, so I’m working to figure out this mechanism,” says Dr. Branch. “If we know why and how this happens, maybe we can figure out how to prevent it.”   

Read the AABB blog to learn more about Dr. Branch’s many contributions to transfusion medicine and hematology.  

Image
Dr. Donald Branch holds his award at the AABB annual meeting in San Antonio
Dr. Donald Branch holds the Tibor Greenwalt Memorial Award at the AABB annual meeting in San Antonio. (Photo: Chantale Pambrun)

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.

ShareTweetShare

Dr. Donna Wall wins lifetime achievement award


Friday, September 27, 2019

With a medical career spanning almost 40 years, Dr. Donna Wall has made significant contributions to the evolution of blood and marrow transplantation across North America.

After completing paediatric and paediatric hematology/oncology training in the U.S., Dr. Wall went on to establish blood and marrow transplantation and public cord blood programs in cities including St. Louis and San Antonio. Among her many other collaborations, Dr. Wall has contributed to the transplant community upon her return to Canada. She helped launch Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank and served on the organization’s stem cell expert advisory committee for several years.

Despite recent advances in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, there is still a great need for improvement at the pre- and post-transplant stages. Dr. Wall’s research focuses on better understanding the immune system, with the hope of improving patient outcomes — particularly children undergoing transplant. She has also worked on early phase clinical trials exploring gene therapy for treating childhood acute leukemia.

In recognition of her achievements, Dr. Wall received Canadian Blood Services' Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Honouring Canada's Lifeline event in Ottawa on Sept. 23. 

Dr. Wall joined The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and the University of Toronto in 2016 as section head of the blood and marrow transplant/cellular therapy program. She has also chaired the hematopoietic stem cell transplant discipline in the Children’s Oncology Group and holds leadership positions in the Paediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Group, the Canadian Blood and Marrow Transplant Group, and the CIHR-funded Canadian National Transplant Research program.

Image
Dr. Donna Wall

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.

ShareTweetShare

Stem cell transplantation pioneer wins lifetime achievement award


Thursday, September 26, 2019

With a focus on improving the lives of patients living with autoimmune diseases, transplant physician and scientist Dr. Harold Atkins has dedicated his career to discovering innovative methods for stem cell transplantation.

In the late 1990s, Dr. Atkins and neurologist Dr. Mark Freedman proposed a novel way to stop the progression of early aggressive multiple sclerosis (MS) by completely wiping out a patient’s immune system, followed by a stem cell transplant. Their idea was first received with skepticism by the medical community.

In 2016, however, The Lancet (one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals in the world) published their landmark study, which had followed patients for up to 13 years and demonstrated outstanding results: Atkins and Freedman had been able to achieve long-term suppression of all MS-related inflammation, most patients’ disabilities had stabilized, and some patients had even regained abilities they previously lost.

This therapeutic procedure, known as immunoablation and autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (IAHSCT), continues to be studied by the medical community worldwide. Today, there is a network of physicians across the U.S. and Europe who are tracking about 1,000 IAHSCT patients. Dr. Atkins has also pioneered work using IAHSCT for two other rare autoimmune disorders: myasthenia gravis and stiff person syndrome. So far, studies have shown great promise.

Canadian Blood Services' stem cell manufacturing program supported the clinical trial, and continues to support treatments. The blood stem cells used in the clinical trial were autologous, meaning they were collected from the participants themselves. Canadian Blood Services staff on site at the Ottawa Hospital collected the stem cells (mobilized from the bone marrow into the blood and collected by an apheresis procedure), and then shipped them to Canadian Blood Services’ stem cell manufacturing facility for processing.

In recognition for his achievements, Dr. Atkins received Canadian Blood Services' Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Honouring Canada's Lifeline event in Ottawa on Sept. 23. 

In addition to his work as a physician at the Ottawa Hospital Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, Dr. Atkins is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa, a scientist in the Centre for Innovative Cancer Research and the medical director of the Regenerative Medicine Program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Image
Dr. Harold Atkins

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.

ShareTweetShare

New research suggests novel uses for a plasma-derived medication


Thursday, August 29, 2019

A treatment now used to fight two diseases might have the potential to help patients with other conditions, too, according to new research funded by Canadian Blood Services. 

The new publication, “Treating murine inflammatory diseases with an anti-erythrocyte antibody,” came out Aug. 21 in Science Translational Medicine, a high-impact scientific journal.

Canadian Blood Services supplies hospitals with anti-D, a medication made from human plasma, to treat the autoimmune disease immune thrombocytopenia (ITP) and to prevent hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn. Plasma is the protein-rich liquid in blood that helps other blood components circulate throughout the body. Anti-D is a solution of antibodies against a protein on red blood cells, made from the plasma of donors. At this time, anti-D isn’t indicated for any other diseases. 

In this new study, Dr. Alan Lazarus, a research scientist and immunologist at the Canadian Blood Services Centre for Innovation, discovered that a red blood cell antibody called Ter119 works in three mouse models of inflammatory arthritis, as well as one model of transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI). TRALI is very rare, but it’s one of the leading causes of transfusion-related deaths, and there is no good treatment for it. These findings suggest that anti-D may be a possible treatment for these diseases in humans.

“The knowledge that anti-D could be used to treat TRALI as well as autoimmune diseases other than ITP is good news for patients,” says Dr. Lazarus. “This may have broad therapeutic potential.”

If it’s demonstrated to work in humans, this approach may also provide an alternative to immune suppression, which is how doctors typically approach autoimmune disorders, but not a good option for everyone.

This work is basic research using mouse models, and an essential step in improving medical understanding and opening doors to new possibilities for better patient care


Image
Dr. Alan Lazarus

Dr. Alan Lazarus is a scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital’s Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science and a professor at the University of Toronto. This work received funding support from Canadian Blood Services, funded by the federal government (Health Canada) and the provincial and territorial ministries of health. The views expressed in the publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the federal government of Canada, or provincial or territorial governments. The work also received funding from Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CSL Limited, and CSL Behring, a biopharmaceutical company that produces human anti-D.


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.

ShareTweetShare

New data report on eye and tissue banking in Canada


Tuesday, August 06, 2019

“It was as if someone had taken a teaspoon of sand, dumped it in my eye, taken their thumb and ground it in, and every once in a while, gave it a little poke with a twig.” That’s how Loreen Hardy-Ramey describes living with Fuchs endothelial dystrophy, a hereditary eye condition.

Without the cornea transplant the Arnprior, Ont. woman received in the summer of 2016, Hardy-Ramey’s pain would have continued as her sight faded.

“I say it was my eightieth birthday present because I received this gift just days after my birthday,” she says. Now she’s looking forward to the birth of her great-grandchild, who she’ll be able to see with both eyes.

A new report from Canadian Blood Services provides insight into eye and tissue banking across Canada. Since 2012, Canadian Blood Services has collected data from all Canadian eye and tissue programs on behalf of the Eye and Tissue Data Committee. The 2017 Canadian Eye and Tissue Banking Statistics report, developed with the support of eye and tissue banks across Canada, is the first one where five consecutive years of data are available. This ongoing accumulation of data allows for new insight into provincial and national trends.

Eye and tissues for donation include corneas and other eye tissues, bone, skin, heart tissues, tendons and other musculoskeletal tissues. Depending on the tissue, they can be collected from deceased or living donors.This report presents data on eye and tissues and does not include data on organ donation.

With the data contained in this report, provincial eye and tissue programs can better understand what’s happening in their region and use this understanding to inform how they operate. National organizations use this data to shape their discussions on national practice and policy.

The data also has the potential to support future research by providing a broad dataset to work with. Looking at the data from different provinces can also offer insight into potential ways to share knowledge and resources, while also providing a more nuanced understanding of provincial demand and reliance on internationally-sourced grafts. 

 

Image
Loreen Hardy-Ramey, a woman in her eighties, stands beside her husband Noel.
Loreen Hardy-Ramey, a cornea recipient from Arnprior, Ont., with her husband Noel.

In 2017…

  • Canadian eye banks distributed 3,820 corneas for transplant
  • Canadian tissue banks distributed 12,652 musculoskeletal, cardiac and skin grafts for transplant
  • Tissue was recovered from more than 4,500 deceased donors and 294 living donors
  • Canadian eye and tissue banks received more than 50,000 deceased donor referrals for potential tissue donation

 

 

 

 


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.

ShareTweetShare

Book now to donate blood