Top 5 blog posts of 2019


Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Welcome to 2020! Take a look back with us by checking out the five most visited R.E.D. blog posts in 2019. 

 

Group of blood donors

1. The ABCs of ABO blood types

In the early days of transfusion medicine, doctors gave patients all sorts of different fluids, including blood or milk from animals. Success varied, and the results were often disastrous—even when they used human blood. It wasn’t until the start of the 20th century that physicians learned the ABCs of the ABO blood types and finally understood how to give a successful transfusion. Read more >>

 

 

 

 

iron

2. Ferritin findings: investigating iron and impacts on donors

The health and well-being of our donors is a top priority at Canadian Blood Services. Health screening, education and donor testing help to ensure donors are healthy enough to give and that their gift doesn’t cause harm to themselves or to patients. If a problem is detected, we let donors know and advise to them to take action. Read more >>

 

3. Dr. Chantale Pambrun explains the importance of iron wellness

Iron is an essential element for producing hemoglobin (the molecule that helps transport oxygen around your body). Back in 2017, we made changes to donor eligibility based on new information our researchers learned about mitigating iron deficiency in blood donors.

In this post, Centre for Innovation director Dr. Chantale Pambrun, who was at the time medical consultant, donor and clinical services with Canadian Blood Services, explains why we made changes, and provides some more information about why donor iron wellness is important. Read more >>

 

Nathaly, a mother who donated cord blood, holds her baby and toddler.

4. Cord blood matters - take time to learn more

Cord blood stem cells can be used in the treatment of more than 80 different diseases and disorders. By donating their baby’s cord blood, parents have the power to help patients living with diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia, and sickle cell disease. Researchers continue to explore the possibilities of using cord blood in many other treatments.

At any given time, there are hundreds of Canadian patients searching for an unrelated stem cell donor. Cord blood might just be the chance they need. Read more >>

 

5. Why do scientists use mice in medical research? 

Mice fill a special and important role in medical research. Like humans, mice are mammals, and their bodies undergo many similar processes, such as ageing, and have similar immune responses to infection and disease. Their hormone (endocrine) systems are a lot like ours, too. They’re also one of the first species — along with humans — to have had their complete genome sequenced. From this, we’ve learned they share approximately 80 per cent of their genes with us. Read more >>


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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Does sex matter in red blood cell transfusions?


Monday, December 23, 2019

When doctors select red blood cell units for transfusion into a patient, they consider the patient’s blood type to determine what types of donor blood would be compatible. What they don’t consider is the sex of the patient and whether the donor is the same (sex-matched) or different sex (sex-mismatched). But this may be a factor worth considering, according to a study led by Dr. Michelle Zeller, Canadian Blood Services medical officer and assistant professor in the department of medicine at McMaster University. 

The study, “Sex-mismatched red blood cell transfusions and mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” was published in May this year in Vox Sanguinis, a peer-reviewed medical journal covering hematology — the study of the physiology of blood.   

Dr. Zeller’s team summarized the evidence from studies that compared outcomes in patients who received sex-matched or sex-mismatched red blood cell transfusions. Their analysis suggests that sex-mismatched red blood cell transfusions may be associated with a higher risk of death, but more investigation is needed.  

Dr. Zeller notes that the findings need to be interpreted with caution because the quality of the evidence from the studies they analysed was very low. “Although our study looked at the outcomes of over 85,000 patients, we found only observational studies — which have a higher risk of bias — available for our analysis,” she says. “But the findings suggest sex-mismatching in red blood cell transfusion is a potentially important issue that needs to be more rigorously examined.” 


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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Earl W. Davie Symposium – 13 years of inspiration


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Since its inauguration in 2007, I have had the pleasure of attending almost all Earl W. Davie Symposia. Both this event and the annual Norman Bethune Symposium are cornerstones of the academic calendar at the Centre for Blood Research, a multidisciplinary biomedical research institute in Vancouver, BC, which conducts innovative research in blood and blood-related processes.

Dr. Davie, in whose honour this symposium is held, is truly a giant in the world of biochemistry and blood coagulation. His research to understand the proteins involved in blood coagulation led him to be one of the first scientists to describe how blood clots. This work was published in a seminal paper in the journal Science in 1964. Dr. Davie’s work in the field continued and his contributions to advancing understanding of blood clotting, disorders related to clotting (e.g. hemophilia) and to developing therapies are immense.

Dr. Earl W. Davie (left) enjoying presentations at the 13th annual Earl W. Davie Symposium in Vancouver. (Photo courtesy of the Centre for Blood Research.)
Dr. Earl W. Davie (left) enjoying presentations at the 13th annual Earl W. Davie Symposium in Vancouver. (Photo courtesy of the Centre for Blood Research.)

Despite a career spanning seven decades it seems Dr. Davie’s interest in the field of protein biochemistry and blood coagulation has not waned. He is a member of the US National Academy of Science and a Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry at the University of Washington. The now 92-year-old has attended almost all the symposia held in his honour, making the journey from Seattle to Vancouver. He missed the 2018 symposium due to ill health, so it was especially wonderful to see him in Vancouver this year.

The lineup of presenters for the 2019 symposium was impressive. To read a more detailed account of the presentations, please visit the Centre for Blood Research's blog

(L-R): Dr. Ross MacGillivray, a founder of the Centre for Blood Research and a former student of Dr. Davie’s, with Dr. Davie, Jim Davie (Dr. Davie’s son), and Dr. Dominic Chung, also a former student of Dr. Davie. (Photo courtesy of the Centre for Blood Research.)
(L-R): Dr. Ross MacGillivray, a founder of the Centre for Blood Research and a former student of Dr. Davie’s, with Dr. Davie, Jim Davie (Dr. Davie’s son), and Dr. Dominic Chung, also a former student of Dr. Davie. (Photo courtesy of the Centre for Blood Research.)

My highlights of the 2019 symposium included the talk by Dr. David Lillicrap (Queen’s University), recipient of the first-ever Naiman-Vickars Professorship. Dr. Lillicrap began with some historical perspectives on hemophilia therapy. Advances over the past decades mean therapies for hemophilia are safe and generally effective, but there are drawbacks – current treatments are inconvenient, can cause immune reactions, and are expensive and not accessible to everyone. Dr. Lillicrap described ongoing innovations in this field, including gene therapy, cellular therapy and engineering approaches, which are heralding several promising new and improved therapies - the future of hemophilia care.

Dr. Joseph Italiano’s (Harvard) presentation on the production of platelets was fascinating. Platelets are small cellular fragments that are central to blood clotting. Dr. Italiano’s work to understand how platelets are produced in the body is informing efforts (with the company Platelet Biogenesis) to produce functional bio-engineered human platelets outside the body.  

My final highlight was Dr. Nigel Mackman’s (UNC Chapel Hill) presentation about coagulation defects associated with cancer. Dr. Mackman explained that cancer patients are at a 4- to 7-fold increased risk of thrombosis – inappropriate clotting in the blood vessels that can lead to pulmonary embolism, heart attacks, or stroke. Dr. Mackman is working to understand why this is the case and look for markers that could be used to determine which patients are most at risk.

ttendees discuss posters during the 13th annual Earl W. Davie Symposium.
Attendees discuss posters during the 13th annual Earl W. Davie Symposium. (Photo courtesy of the Centre for Blood Research.)

What is always evident at this symposium is the continued impact of Dr. Davie’s work on the field. Every year, we hear how Dr. Davie’s research and discoveries remain relevant and continue to inform the work of other experts as they try to answer critical questions in coagulation and improve therapies for patients. This, to me, is the ultimate testament to the remarkable body of work generated by Dr. Davie over the course of his career.

The Centre for Blood Research at the University of British Columbia hosts three Canadian Blood Services scientists and affiliated staff, postdoctoral fellows and students. Canadian Blood Services and the Centre for Innovation are proud to partner with the Centre for Blood Research to deliver training and education events including the annual Earl W. Davie Symposium.


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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Patients with non-ABO red blood cell antibodies: transfusion best practices for professionals


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

When a patient who needs a red blood cell transfusion has unexpected red blood cell antibodies (non-ABO) in their blood, health-care providers have to make decisions about what kind of red blood cell units can be safely transfused. Finding the right match for the patient is crucial because in some cases, transfusing incompatible donor units — those with antigens that could react with the patient’s antibodies — can result in serious complications, including acute or delayed hemolytic transfusion reactions. When pregnant mothers have these unexpected antibodies, they may require specialized prenatal care because their fetus or newborn may be at risk for a potentially life-threatening disease called hemolytic disease of the newborn.

To support hospital transfusion services and health-care providers in making clinical decisions that optimize patient care and use of blood products, Canadian Blood Services published new serological best practices on its professional education website. Dr. Gwen Clarke, associate medical director of clinical services at Canadian Blood Services and clinical professor in the University of Alberta’s department of laboratory medicine and pathology, collaborated with resident physicians from the University of Alberta Hematological Pathology residency training program to develop the best practices. Included are recommendations for selecting donor red blood cell units and other guidance to ensure transfusion patients receive red blood cell units that are the best match for them while avoiding requests for antigen-matched units or additional testing when these are not required.

For more resources for health-care providers, including leading practices and clinical guidelines, visit Canadian Blood Services' professional education website


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 whole blood to blood components…and back again!


Thursday, December 05, 2019
Image
whole blood bag

 

What’s old is new again. Recent research has shown that whole blood may be the best fluid to replace what’s being lost in actively bleeding patients. However, for the past 50 or so years, whole blood for transfusion has not been readily available in Canada or many other countries. To support the (re)-introduction of this product to the Canadian Blood Services formulary, the Centre for Innovation’s product and process development group, under the leadership of Ken McTaggart, has been working to understand this product and the optimal processes to produce and store it. How did we get here? A quick recap of the history of blood transfusion will help explain.

Necessity is the mother of invention

The history of blood transfusion is intimately linked with efforts to save the lives of soldiers, particularly during the First World War. The types of injuries sustained by soldiers on the front lines of conflict can be horrific and quickly lead to “traumatic hemorrhagic shock” – massive and potentially fatal blood loss. Fluid resuscitation – replacing the lost fluid – is necessary to save patients with shock. During the First World War, fluid resuscitation was often done using saline solution or other colloid solutions.

The introduction of citrated whole blood was an important early innovation in blood banking that took place during the First World War. Citrate is an anticoagulant – it prevents blood from clotting. Adding it to whole blood allowed the donor and the patient to be separated in time and space for the first time. Canadian physician L. Bruce Robertson was a pioneer of this approach. He drew blood from donors, added citrate and stored the blood in one-litre glass bottles. The blood could be stored for several days, and the bottles packed in boxes with sawdust and ice and sent to the front lines for transfusion to casualties.

For the next 50 years after the First World War, citrated whole blood was the standard transfusion product provided for patients in military and civilian settings.

The era of blood component therapy

In the 1960s, another innovation heralded a dramatic change in blood banking and blood transfusion. The advent of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) “plastic” containers and closed sterile sets of tubing ushered in the era of blood component therapy. This led to a big shift in the way blood was processed and transfused to patients. Blood could now be separated into its components – red blood cells, plasma and platelets. This brought many advantages. The components can be stored separately using the optimal storage conditions and shelf lives for each component. A single blood donation can be made into several products and can help more patients. Patients can be given just the component they needed, which reduces the risk of adverse reactions.

Finding balance

Component therapy has remained the standard of care in almost all clinical situations for the past 50 years, including trauma. Blood components, as well as crystalloids and colloids, became standard therapy for patients with active bleeding. There were, however, some drawbacks with early approaches following the shift away from whole blood transfusion. This led to a shift in recent years to a new standard-of-care approach: balanced transfusion of components for patients who are actively bleeding. In many trauma centres, these “massive transfusion protocols” give plasma, platelets, and red blood cells in a balanced 1:1:1 or 1:1:2 ratio.

Recognizing the limits

Even more recently, there’s been growing recognition that adherence to these massive transfusion protocols can be difficult or impossible. For the military, the different storage requirements for each component and other logistical challenges make it difficult to provide the components where they are needed. In rural or remote civilian trauma centres, platelets are rarely available, and plasma, if available, needs to be thawed which takes time. Even in large urban centres, the necessity of multiple components, which means multiple fridges/freezers, multiple bags, and overall a highly complex protocol, can lead to challenges. These constraints are especially important when you consider that for patients suffering from traumatic hemorrhagic shock, time is critical. The window to save these patients’ lives is counted in minutes, not hours.

What’s old is new again

Recent research has shown that the optimal fluid to replace what’s being lost by actively bleeding patients is likely whole blood. Transfusing whole blood increases the fluid volume, while treating the loss of oxygen and helping to promote blood clotting. It simplifies the resuscitation efforts, particularly in austere, pre-hospital or military environments. Clinical evidence has shown that whole blood is no worse than, and is perhaps better than, current trauma protocols. Even more promising, if the whole blood is stored cold before transfusion, it appears to have an equal or better effect on bleeding than component therapy, which uses platelets stored at room temperature.

Why the need for research?

Despite it not being a new approach, there are many questions that need to be answered to successfully re-introduce whole blood to the formulary. Since whole blood was last used, it has become standard practice to leukoreduce components. This is a process that removes white blood cells from blood components and increases their safety by reducing the risk of adverse reactions. Questions remain about how best to incorporate leukoreduction into the whole blood production process. There are also questions about how long whole blood can be stored.

Another critical question is which whole blood product should be produced. Component therapy allows for “universal” components to be made available – components that can be transfused to anyone (i.e.: AB plasma or O red blood cells). There is, however, is no “universal” whole blood. This could be a drawback, especially because whole blood will be used in trauma situations where time is critical and the patient’s blood type might not be known. There are, however, blood types that are more suitable for transfusion to many, and these need to be investigated and better understood.

Want to learn more?

Look out for our next “D is for Development” post (coming early 2020) to learn more about the Centre for Innovation’s research work to support the reintroduction of whole blood for transfusion.

Previous posts in the D is for Development series:

From the AABB: Key dates in blood transfusion history


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 awards funding to support young researchers and improve blood product use


Friday, November 29, 2019

The Canadian Blood Services Centre for Innovation recently awarded successful applicants to the following funding competitions: 

The Postdoctoral Fellowship Program offers salary support for young investigators. Congratulations to the successful candidates:  

  • Dr. Ruqayyah Almizraq (University of Toronto, training in Dr. Donald Branch’s laboratory): “Development of a drug to replace IVIg, and ADCC as cause for unexplained hemolysis post-transfusion” 

  • Dr. Yfke Pasman (St. Michael’s Hospital; training in Dr. Heyu Ni’s laboratory): “Reducing IVIG usage by developing novel prophylaxis and therapies against FNAIT” 

The Blood Efficiency Accelerator Award Program (or BEAP) aims to improve the efficient and appropriate utilization of blood products, while maintaining the safety of the blood system. Congratulations to the successful candidates: 

  • Dr. Dana Devine (Canadian Blood Services & The University of British Columbia): “Measurement of heavy metals in donor blood in Canada” 

  • Dr. Donald Arnold (McMaster University & McMaster Centre for Transfusion Research): “A study to understand C1 Esterase Inhibitor distribution and patterns of use in Canada” 

  • Dr. Ziad Solh (Western University): “Are cervical cancer brachytherapy outcomes associated with pre-brachytherapy hemoglobin values and transfusion practice? An observational study comparing two academic centres” 

Learn more about our current and previously funded research projects here

Call for applications! 

Do you have an idea that might improve the efficient and appropriate use of blood products? The BEAP competition is currently open with a deadline for receipt of applications of January 24, 2020. 

Coming soon! Keep an eye on our research funding opportunities page for the opening of the latest Intramural Research Grant Program competition (announcement expected mid-December 2019). 

To stay informed about Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation funding opportunities, please sign up for our Research & Education newsletter.  


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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AABB 2019 – A knowledge infusion for our trainees!


Thursday, November 14, 2019
Narges & Olga at AABB 2019 in San Antonio
Narges & Olga at AABB 2019 in San Antonio

The AABB Annual Meeting is a must-attend event for those in the fields of transfusion medicine and cellular therapies. AABB 2019 took place last month in San Antonio, Texas. Canadian Blood Services’ trainees, Dr. Narges Hadjesfandiari (University of British Columbia) and Dr. Olga Mykhailova (University of Alberta), were there and report back on their meeting highlights.

Narges:

Narges receiving her award for “2019 Outstanding Abstract Award for Trainees” at AABB 2019
Narges (centre) receiving her award for “2019 Outstanding Abstract Award for Trainees” at AABB 2019

I really enjoyed the combination of specialized sessions that directly related to my research plus multiple more general sessions. The oral session: “Red Blood Cell Storage: The Oxygen Paradox” and the posters in this area inspired me to do more and work faster when I am back in the laboratory! “Blood Bank Mythbusters” and “Beyond Conventional: Controversial Uses of Blood Components,” on the other hand, were two eye-opener sessions and a knowledge infusion to my blood banking brain.

AABB 2019 also gave me the opportunity to finally meet face-to-face with Canadian Blood Services’ scientists, trainees and administrative staff whose everyday work has inspired and helped me, but who I knew only by name before.

I had the opportunity to present a poster entitled “Cryoprecipitate for Adults – How Important Is It to Match for Blood Type” and give an oral presentation on “Time to Production is Among the Factors Affecting Red Blood Cell Storage Hemolysis" at AABB 2019.

Congratulations to Narges, from Dr. Dana Devine's lab, who won "2019 Outstanding Abstract Award for Trainees" for her oral presentation at AABB 2019. This presentation was also highlighted on the AABB blog.

 

 

Olga:

Olga presenting her poster at AABB 2019
Olga presenting her poster at AABB 2019

As a postdoctoral fellow at Dr. Jason Acker’s laboratory, one of our main areas of research is understanding the aging of different subpopulations of stored red blood cells depending on donor sex, age and other factors. Therefore, it was very interesting to me that lots of speakers at AABB 2019 addressed the fact that progression and severity of the storage lesion – the gradual loss of quality of red blood cells during storage before transfusion – varies depending on donor characteristics.

Dr. Angelo D’Alessandro (University of Colorado) spoke about how donor biology impacts oxidative stress and other metabolic changes during red blood cell storage. Together with Dr. Richard Francis (Columbia University), he hypothesized that storing red blood cells under low-oxygen conditions may be a reasonable approach to improve their storage quality.

It was a great pleasure for me to attend a keynote speech of Yancey Strickler, the co-founder of Kickstarter, who shared with the audience the idea of “Bento Box for Your Values”. Strickler believes that everyone can easily define themselves and their values by filling the four boxes of bento: “now me” (short-term, personal goals), “now us” (short-term, collective goals), “future me" (long-term, personal goals) and “future us” (long-term collective goals). This idea is an integral part of sustaining powerful public-benefit corporations, such as Kickstarter.

I also had the opportunity to present a poster about my work: “RBC Subpopulations in Stored Concentrates Have Different Quality Characteristics”.

Want to learn more about the exciting advances and discoveries shared at AABB 2019? Check out the AABB blog. Many of their October posts focus on the Annual Meeting.


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 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.”

Image
Jason Acker

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.

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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.  

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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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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! 

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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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