Transplantation

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.  

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.

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Memories of CST 2019


Thursday, October 24, 2019

The 2019 Canadian Transplant Summit took place Oct. 15-19 in iconic Banff, Alta. Presented by the Canadian Society of Transplantation (CST), Canadian Blood Services and the Canadian Donation and Transplantation Research Program (CDTRP), this annual event is a unique opportunity to bring together medical professionals, scientists, patients and stakeholders of all interests in organ donation and transplantation from across Canada.

This community works together to foster a future which will increase access to organs, cells and tissues, and improve health outcomes for Canadians living with a transplant. The meeting was a key networking and knowledge exchange event that attracted more than 350 participants.

Highlights

As part of the opening keynote address on Oct. 16, the audience experienced two very diverse life-saving perspectives.

Winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, Alvin Roth of Stanford University, presented the opening plenary titled “Kidney Exchange: an opportunity for cooperation in North America”, a look at the impacts of cross-border kidney sharing. Dr. Roth helped design the high school matching system used in New York City, and is one of the early founders and designers of kidney exchange in the United States, which helps incompatible patient-donor pairs find compatible kidneys for transplantation.

The parents of Logan Boulet, Toby and Bernadine, shared their perspective on organ donation and transplantation as a donor family. Logan Boulet made the decision to be an organ donor just weeks before his passing in the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April 2018. Inspired to register by his coach and mentor, Ric Suggit, who became an organ donor following his death in 2017, Logan registered his decision and took the wise and necessary step of sharing his decision with his family. 

Tweet from CST participant with photos of the Boulets presenting

Logan’s legacy lives on and continues to inspire Canadians to register their intent to become organ donors. The first annual Green Shirt Day was held on April 7, 2019 in Logan’s honour. This annual tribute continues to raise awareness and honour the selfless gift that is organ donation.

Bernadine and Toby Boulet share their perspective as a donor family
Bernadine and Toby Boulet share their perspective as a donor family

A number of sessions throughout the conference provided insight into the work being done in Canada and internationally to push the boundaries of ‘higher risk’ donors, and especially to increase the uptake and usage of Hepatitis C (NAT positive) donor organs for healthy waitlisted patient.

On Oct. 17, during a lunch symposium, Sean Delaney, associate director of listing and allocation at Canadian Blood Services, brought his unique perspective as both transplant professional and as a kidney recipient (a generous gift from his brother), currently on the waitlist for a second kidney. His presentation was titled “Patient perspective on the marginal or high risk offer vs. waiting for a 'better' offer.”

Delaney, based in Edmonton, Alta., was part of building the original Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) program, as well as implementing the highly sensitized patient (HSP) interprovincial kidney sharing program. Together, the programs have produced more than 1,000 transplants for Canadian patients through interprovincial sharing. Most recently, he has been working to advance heart and liver sharing through the Canadian Transplant Registry.

Photo of Sean Delaney speaking at a podium

 

 

Artificial intelligence and machine learning were hot topics at this meeting and the subject of a half-day workshop presented by the CDTRP.

On Oct. 19, a morning session shared further insight into living donation. Dr. John Gill with the University of British Columbia presented about costs incurred by living donors that present a barrier or disincentives to donation. Dr. Rahul Mainra, a transplant nephrologist in Saskatchewan, presented about the impact of kidney paired donation and the importance of ‘matchability’ for kidney paired donation and transplantation. Allison Hunt, who donated her left kidney to a total stranger after a snap decision made at a cocktail party, provided perspectives from an altruistic living donor.

Tweet reading . @amhealey  provided an insightful overview of DCD Hearts: A possible medical legal/ethical framework in  @cst_transplant  Heart Concurrent Session. The patient/donor family engagement that has occurred to investigate this issue is very impressive. #PatientsIncluded #CdnTxSummit2019

 

 

 

Kathy Yetzer, associate director of living donation with Canadian Blood Services, presented a poster about key success factors for Canadian living kidney donation transplant programs.
Kathy Yetzer, associate director of living donation with Canadian Blood Services, presented a poster about key success factors for Canadian living kidney donation transplant programs.

The poster sessions brought great insight into the wealth and breadth of research underway across the field. Kathy Yetzer, associate director of living donation with Canadian Blood Services, presented a poster about key success factors for Canadian living kidney donation transplant programs. The findings show that performance success was most influenced by implementation of living donation evaluation efficiencies; engaging program stakeholders; broadening living donation identification and awareness strategies; access to quality assurance resources; increased living kidney donation transplant funding; and operating room availability. 

Tweet reading: Thank you  @umtincka  for an outstanding talk on “Canada’s National Multiorgan Willing to Cross Strategy” - Technology, DNA and Policy/Analysis is the how!  @cst_peds   @cst_transplant  #2019CanadianTransplantSummit

 

 

Altogether, CST 2019 was great forum for knowledge exchange and to advance organ and tissue donation and transplantation in Canada. Kudos to the organizing teams at the Canadian Society of Transplantation, Canadian Blood Services and the Canadian Donation and Transplantation Research Program.

Learn more about CST 2019

A tweet from the summit showing animals that look like deer or caribou walking down a path

 

 


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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The 2019 Critical Care Canada Forum hosts fifth annual Deceased Organ Donation Symposium


Tuesday, October 08, 2019

This year marks the fifth annual Deceased Organ Donation Symposium at the Critical Care Canada Forum in Toronto.

Presented by Canadian Blood Services, Trillium Gift of Life and the Canadian Donation and Transplantation Research Program (CDTRP), this two-day symposium held Nov. 11–12, 2019 promotes scientific research in organ donation and transplantation and its application to critical care practice. 

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Highlights from the 2019 Symposium program:

Donation after circulatory determination of death is responsible for the largest quantitative increase in deceased donation and transplantation in Canada. This year’s Deceased Donation Symposium will feature presentations on the latest research about the physiology of dying and the impact of withdrawal of life sustaining measures procedures on donation after circulatory determination of death. A panel discussion will highlight some of the tensions – old and new – that surround this type of donation.

Presumed consent In April 2019, Nova Scotia became the first jurisdiction in Canada to pass presumed consent (opt-out) legislation, designed to increase organ and tissue donation. Though countries with deemed consent models generally have higher donation rates, this consent model is only one of the many key components necessary for an optimal organ donation and transplantation system. After a presentation by Phil Walton, the United Kingdom’s deemed consent project lead, we’ll hear Canadian perspectives on what this legislation means, not only for Nova Scotia, but for the rest of the country and whether Canada is really ready for this. 

Medical assistance in dying and organ donation — The legalization of medical assistance in dying (MAID) in Canada has led to requests for donation after circulatory determination of death from patients who are conscious and competent. The 2019 Deceased Donation Symposium will look at the state of MAID and organ donation today and what it might look like in the future. A donor coordinator who, instead of speaking to substitute decision makers about donation opportunities, is speaking directly to the patient themselves, will describe how and why MAID cases are different from other DCD cases.  

A family perspective — Finally, Randy Tresidder, whose wife was the first person to undergo MAID and organ donation in Nova Scotia, will share his experience and perspectives on MAID and organ donation. The incredible story of Randy’s wife, Dr. Shelly Sarwal, is captured in the documentary film Her Last Project. CCCF attendees will have an opportunity to watch the film on Wednesday, November 13 at 12:30pm. 

https://herlastproject.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/hlp20190913_2.jpg?w=1024

About the Critical Care Canada Forum

The Critical Care Canada Forum is a four-day conference focusing on topics that are relevant to the individuals involved with the care of critically ill patients, wherever the patients are located. Internationally recognized, the Critical Care Canada Forum focuses on leading-edge science through informative and interactive sessions, led by an outstanding international faculty, with poster presentations and exhibits with the latest products and services for the critical care professional.

Did you miss last year’s event? Videos from the 2018 Deceased Donation Symposium at CCCF are available here.


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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Lay Science Writing Competition open for submissions!


Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Stories underlie all research experiences, and we want to hear them! The 2019 Canadian Blood Services’ Lay Science Writing Competition launches today and is open for submissions until Nov. 29, 2019. This year’s theme is “Stories worth telling”. We’re delighted to once again partner with science communication and research leaders Science Borealis and the Centre for Blood Research at the University of British Columbia to host this competition. 

This is an opportunity for research trainees in the Canadian Blood Services research network, including those at UBC’s Centre for Blood Research and, new this year, the UBC School of Biomedical Engineering, to test their plain writing skills. Submissions should use clear language to describe “Stories worth telling” in the areas of blood, plasma, stem cells or organs and tissues research. Submissions will be judged not just for their clear language, but also on their use of storytelling or narrative techniques to describe the research and the story behind the research. Consider what elements make a good story. Add a human angle or other details that readers will be able to relate to. Tell us about the people behind the research, the impact of the work, the journey, the emotional highs and lows! 

The winning writer will receive a $300 prize and the two runners-up will each receive a $100 prize. Selected entries will be disseminated through the Canadian Blood Services, Science Borealis and the Centre for Blood Research's online platforms and social media channels. 

Please note, the work must be original and not previously published. Click here to access the competition guidelines and the application form. If you have questions, please contact the Centre for Innovation by email at centreforinnovation@blood.ca  

The very best of luck! 

STORIES WORTH TELLING! Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation presents Lay Science Writing Competition 2019-20 Call for Submissions Deadline: November 29, 2019 Use plain language to tell the story of your research in blood, plasma, stem cells or organs & tissues Open to members of the Canadian Blood Services extended research trainee network Find out more at blood.ca/research/funding-opportunities

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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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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Centre for Innovation scientist recognized for his contributions to the field of cryobiology


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Centre for Innovation scientist Dr. Jason Acker was recently inducted as a Fellow of the Society for Cryobiology, a prestigious international award that recognizes individuals who have had an exemplary impact on the field of cryobiology. Congratulations to Dr. Acker, who received this award over the summer at the Society for Cryobiology’s annual meeting in San Diego.

Dr Jason Acker holds his award in front of a banner for the Society for Cryobiology
Dr. Acker with the Basile J. Luyet medal.
What is cryobiology?

The Society for Cryobiology is the international society for low temperature biology and medicine. Cryobiology is the science of life at low temperatures. It includes the study of cells, organs, and tissues exposed to below normal temperatures. Cryobiology has many applications in the fields of transfusion and transplantation medicine. For example, plasma and red blood cells are frozen (cryopreserved) and platelets are stored at hypothermic temperatures so they can be stored for longer. Freeze-drying (lyophilization) is used to preserve plasma and plasma-derived medicines. Organs for transplantation are preserved under cold (hypothermic) conditions. Cryopreservation and lyophilization are not new processes, but they remain imperfect; freezing, thawing, and drying processes can result in cell or tissue damage. This affects that quality of the thawed cells and tissues. Researchers are continually working to better understand and improve cryopreservation processes.

What's Fellowship in the Society for Cryobiology?

Fellowship in the Society for Cryobiology is awarded to individuals who have made an outstanding and sustained impact on the field of cryobiology. Only 27 scientists have been granted this prestigious award, and Dr. Acker is one of only four Canadians to have been inducted as a Fellow in the society’s 55-year history.

Why was Dr. Acker recognized?

Dr. Acker has had a long-standing and enduring interest in the field of cryobiology, in particular cryopreservation, with publications in the area spanning the past two decades. His work has specifically focused on the development of intracellular protectants as a novel class of molecules that can protect cells and tissues during freezing and drying. Ice recrystallization within cells is the cause of much of the damage that occurs with freezing and thawing. Among other advances, Dr. Acker’s research has improved understanding of how these ice crystals form in cells and what can be done to prevent their formation. Dr. Acker and his team have investigated various “cryoprotectant” solutions that can be used to protect cells from the damage associated with cryopreservation.

Recently, together with his colleague Dr. Robert Ben, Dr. Acker has discovered a new way to prevent ice recrystallization in cells. He is currently working to further understand and develop this unique technology. This work may change the way blood products, stem cells and other cells, tissues and organs are stored in the future. Dr. Acker and his group are also interested in investigating the issues associated with cryopreservation and desiccation processes in the large-scale environment of a blood operator.

In addition to his scientific contributions, Dr. Acker has had extensive and long-standing service to the Society for Cryobiology. As a member since 1996, Dr. Acker served as editor of the society’s newsletter, editorial board member, committee chair, annual meeting co-chair, member of its Board of Governors, and most recently, as president. Through his role as president, Dr. Acker initiated a renewal of the society’s bylaws, committees and working groups, helped establish a permanent secretariat with the hiring of an executive director, and helped redevelop how annual meetings are structured and organized. Dr. Acker was recognized with the society’s highest honour because of his distinguished service to the Society, sustained scientific contributions to the field and his training of the next generation of cryobiologists.

What does this award mean to Dr. Acker?

In Dr. Acker’s own words:

”It is an incredible honour to be inducted as a Fellow of the Society for Cryobiology. I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to a very 'cool' science that has led to improvements in how we store biological materials for use in transfusion medicine, transplantation, biotechnology, and conservation biology. Through all of this I have had the privilege of working with an outstanding group of research collaborators, technicians, students and industrial partners to realize real impacts from our research. The most exciting thing about working in this area of science is that we are just now starting to see the benefits of more than 20 years of research from our group. The future is very exciting!”

 


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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From artificial intelligence to whale poop, and everything in between


Thursday, September 12, 2019

As Centre for Blood Research (CBR) director Dr. Edward Conway opened Research Day 2019, there was a frisson of nervous tension among the summer studentship trainees sitting in the jam-packed auditorium. These undergraduate students had spent the summer working in the laboratories of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Blood Research (CBR) and School of Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Conway reminded them of the format for the afternoon; they would each get just 2.5 minutes to summarize their work for the audience. The squawk of a rubber chicken manned by Kevin the timekeeper would be the warning that their time was up.

And so began the rolling presentations. One after another, the students stood and presented their work on an incredibly diverse range of topics. From understanding the molecular mechanisms of breast cancer metastasis to developing microfluidic devices to analyze red blood cell deformability. From the perceived trustworthiness of artificial intelligence in medical decision-making to using social media to effectively communicate science. From 3D printing heart tissue to printing single cells using inkjet nozzles. From designing a low-cost handheld skin cancer detection device to analyzing how pumps for blood transfusions might impact the infused blood. There were thirty-five project presentations in less than two hours. But this daunting agenda delivered. Congratulations to all presenters who did a fantastic job of describing their research and keeping the audience engaged and informed.

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3.	Poster session at the CBR Research Day 2019
Poster session at the CBR Research Day 2019 (courtesy of the Centre for Blood Research)

This year for the first time, the CBR Summer Studentship Program was run in partnership with the School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME), an initiative which contributed to the diversity of topics presented. This partnership is a great fit, as noted by Dr. Conway:

“We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to welcome students from the School of Biomedical Engineering into the CBR’s Summer Studentship Program. With rapid developments in technology that contribute to the progress of medicine, constant and effective communication between biomedical engineers and life scientists is essential. I’ve had loads of feedback from this year's summer students, that they enjoyed this chance to “cross-fertilize”… we hope to expand the program!”

After the student presentations, keynote speaker Dave Ireland spoke. Ireland applies his decades of experience as a researcher and teacher to advocate for nature and the conservation of biodiversity. He has worked as a senior curator of conservation and the environment at Toronto Zoo and as the managing director of the Centre for Biodiversity at the Royal Ontario Museum. An advocate of citizen science, Ireland is also the founder of the Ontario BioBlitz, a community-based wildlife survey program that encourages public participation in science. A storyteller and communicator, Ireland asks big questions about how research can effect change in the world.

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2.	Keynote speaker, Dave Ireland, presenting at CBR Research Day 2019.
Keynote speaker Dave Ireland presenting at CBR Research Day 2019 (courtesy of the Centre for Blood Research).

By the end of Ireland’s engaging presentation, the audience had learned how whales and their poop could save the planet. Showing some impressive images of copious whale poop, Ireland described how massive phytoplankton blooms can grow around these discharges in the ocean. Whale poop is the ocean’s fertilizer. It recycles iron, an important nutrient for phytoplankton, the tiny organisms that are a major food source in marine ecologies. Like plants, phytoplankton produce oxygen and sequester carbon – linking whales and the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem directly with our planet's ability to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

CBR Research Day is the culmination of the Summer Studentship Program, and an opportunity to recognize the hard work of the summer students and all those in the laboratories who trained and supported them. After the talks, there was a poster session during which the summer students as well as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows affiliated with the CBR were given the opportunity to present their work and chat one-on-one with attendees. Prizes were given for the best poster and oral presentations, and the annual Neil Mackenzie Mentorship Excellence Award was presented.

The Centre for Innovation is proud to partner with the CBR on their Summer Studentship Program and to sponsor the CBR Research Day.

Thinking of becoming a summer student yourself?

The CBR-SMBE Summer Studentship Program provides undergraduate students with an opportunity to get hands-on lab experience. The student’s research work is guided by a principal investigator or postdoctoral fellow, and their experience is enhanced through research skills workshops, tours of campus facilities, and complementary social events.

Visit the Centre for Blood Research website for information and application details.

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1.	The summer students with CBR director, Dr. Ed Conway and keynote speaker, Dave Ireland
The summer students with CBR director, Dr. Ed Conway (far right), and keynote speaker, Dave Ireland (middle row, centre). Photo courtesy of the Centre for Blood Research.

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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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. 

 

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.

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I’m fascinated by the power of stem cells: Q&A with Dr. Nicolas Pineault


Friday, July 19, 2019

For more than two decades, Dr. Nicolas Pineault has worked in stem cell biology. Since joining Canadian Blood Services in 2012 as a development scientist at the Centre for Innovation, he has conducted research in stem cells from cord blood, bone marrow cells and platelets. Dr. Pineault is an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa (uOttawa).  

Because July is Cord Blood Awareness Month, we talked to Dr. Pineault about his ongoing research in cord blood, as well as his passions and other new projects. 


Q. Tell us about yourself and the work you’re currently engaged in. 

A. I've been working in the field of stem cell biology since my PhD studies, which I did at the University of British Columbia from 1995-2001. Before joining Canadian Blood Services in 2012, I was a research scientist in the research and development division at Héma-Québec. My other passions in life are hockey, sports, camping and spending time with my family.  

At Canadian Blood Services, I oversee two areas of development and research. First, together with my senior research assistant Roya Pasha, I support the operation of the stem cell manufacturing branch of the organization, including the public cord blood bank located here in Ottawa. We also provide technical and knowledge support. For instance, we developed a thaw protocol for cord blood units distributed by Canadian Blood Services, and optimized various processes used in the stem cell manufacturing business.  

My second area of research is studying the impact that stem cell expansion has on the capacity of cord blood stem cells to support engraftment. This research occurs here in our lab at head office and at the animal facility of uOttawa, and is mainly conducted by the graduate students, honour students and post-doctoral fellows whom I supervise and support. 

Q. What are the biggest challenges that currently exist in cord blood research?  

A. Two areas of work are very popular in the field of cord blood hematopoietic research. The first area is improving the engraftment activity of cord blood to lead to faster recovery of transplant patients. This is done either by tricking stem cells to move to the bone more efficiently after transplant, or by expanding stem cells so that more cells are available for transplantation. Our lab does a lot of research in these areas. Another exciting area of work is gene editing, which could one day provide a long-term cure for patients with common hemoglobinopathies such as sickle cell anemia and beta-thalassemia. This approach tries to genetically correct point-mutations in the DNA of the patients’ stem cells so that their progeny-like red cells can produce normal red cells.  

Q. How do you see the role of your research in improving outcomes for Canadian patients?  

A. Stem cell transplantation is used to cure over 80 diseases, including leukemia and immunodeficiencies, and new exciting possibilities are emerging that may cure other diseases or disorders such as autism and cerebral palsy. So, our work focuses on maximising the quality of stem cell products processed and produced at the Canadian Blood Services to improve outcomes of stem cell transplant for Canadian patients.   

Q. What’s your next project? 

A. We're currently working on a project for the stem cell manufacturing lab in Ottawa about donor-lymphocyte infusion, or DLI products. The objective of this project is to demonstrate that the DLI product retains its quality attributes following changes in production requested by The Ottawa Hospital, namely freezing smaller volumes in new bags. In my wish list, I would love to bring in and optimize the technology that can be used to correct sickle-cell mutation in hematopoietic stem cells. This disease is one of the most common genetic disorders in humans, and current treatment options are not curative. 

Q. Why do you care about your work? 

A. I never thought as an undergrad student in biochemistry at Laval University that I would one day work in the field of stem cell biology. This changed after I did my first immunology course and spent a summer internship at the R&D department of the Red Cross in Quebec City. Since then, I have always been fascinated and impressed by the power of stem cells, and by the incredible research that surrounds these special cells. This is one of the passions that fuels my energy for my line of work. 

Dr Nicolas Pineault wears a lab coat and holds a blue plastic container in a stem cell lab
Dr. Nicolas Pineault

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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