Plasma

Research Unit: What's in a bag of plasma?


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Our latest Centre for Innovation Research Unit examines what’s in a bag of plasma. Plasma can be separated from a whole blood donation (called recovered plasma), or obtained by apheresis donation (called source plasma). Usually, recovered plasma is used for transfusion, and source plasma is sent for fractionation into plasma-derived drugs.

In this study, Dr. William Sheffield and Craig Jenkins from the Centre for Innovation tested levels and activities of important plasma factors for coagulation in recovered plasma. They also measured levels of immunoglobulin, from which the plasma-derived drug intravenous immune globulins (IVIg) is made. They found that the way in which plasma is manufactured from whole blood impacts the composition of recovered plasma; recovered plasma contains more immunoglobulin when the time between blood donation and manufacturing into plasma is shorter.

Many plasma-derived drugs, including IVIg and coagulation factors, are essential, life-saving treatments. The steady increase in use of these drugs, in particular IVIg, is putting pressure on supply.  While source plasma remains the major source of plasma for fractionation, this study provides valuable information on what’s in a bag of recovered plasma produced by Canadian Blood Services, and how manufacturing methods may impact yields of plasma-derived drugs.

To learn more, read our Research Unit here.

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Research unit

Research Units provide clear summaries of the results and impacts of research conducted at Canadian Blood Services. Written by Canadian Blood Services researchers in collaboration with the knowledge mobilization team, these summaries help disseminate research findings to facilitate informed decision-making.


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.

Looking back on 2018: Top-five most-read stories from the RED blog


Tuesday, January 01, 2019

As the year comes to a close and 2019 is set to begin, we take a moment to reflect on the 2018 articles that were among the most popular.

#5: Raising awareness for living organ donation

In April each year, we honour organ donors and their families during National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week and encourage Canadians to consider organ donation, register their intent to donate, and discuss their wishes with families. This article focuses on raising awareness for living organ donation and was published in November on Giving Tuesday.

Kidney transplantation is life-saving and life-altering. Until we can clone or grow or print kidneys (who knows what the future holds), there will continue to be a need for kidney transplants. Transplantation through living donation has the potential to remove many people from dialysis and the transplant waitlists and alter the lives of not just the patients, but their families as well.”
– Kathy Yetzer, Associate Director, Living Donation, Canadian Blood Services.

Read more

 

#4: Meet the Researcher: Dr. Elisabeth Maurer

For the last few years, we’ve been fortunate to conduct interviews with our staff and adjunct scientists in this series of blog posts titled “Meet the Researcher…” This interview with Dr. Elizableth Maurer was number 4 on our most-read list.

"It is my vision that my work could improve the lives of others — if screening platelets could help reduce the number of patients who do not respond as well as hoped to platelet transfusion, and save more lives, this would be very rewarding.”" ~ Dr. Elisabeth Maurer, adjunct scientist, Canadian Blood Services

Read more

 

#3 In the news: UBC research brings us one step closer to universal blood

Exciting research from the University of British Columbia could make it easier to match blood to patients, by turning all blood into type O, the universal donor. This work was presented earlier in 2018 at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Boston, and created quite a buzz. We chatted wit our Chief Scientist, Dr. Dana Devine, and  Dr. Jayachandran Kizhakkedathu to learn more about this exciting advance.

Read more

 

Our top two blog posts are related to blood donor eligibility criteria and the research program that is working toward evolving the eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men.

#2 MSM Research Grant Program launches second funding competition

The objective of the MSM Research Grant Program is to ensure the generation of adequate evidence-based research for alternative screening approaches for blood or plasma donors, which could evolve the current eligibility criteria for MSM while maintaining the safety of the blood supply. The program is administered by Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec with funding support from Health Canada.

Read more 

#1 The evolution of a donor deferral policy: where do we go from here?

Dr. Mindy Goldman, medical director at Canadian Blood Services, along with coauthors Dr. Dana Devine and Dr. Sheila O’Brien also from Canadian Blood Services and Dr. Andrew Shih with the Vancouver General Hospital,  published a review article in the scientific journal Vox Sanguinis, titled Donor deferral policies for men who have sex with men: past, present and future. This blog post provides an overview of the publication.

Read more

For the latest on this topic, an update on the MSM Research Program was published in December 2018

Thank you for reading about Research, Education and Discovery at Canadian Blood Services. We look forward to reporting on more exciting science, researchers and innovations in 2019 related to blood, plasma, stem cells, and organs and tissues. Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year

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.

Funded research providing evidence needed to evolve eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men


Monday, December 03, 2018

Today, Canadian men are eligible to give blood if it has been more than one year since their last sexual contact with another man, which is known as the MSM eligibility criteria.

Canadian Blood Services has recently made progress on several fronts that may further evolve the eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men. This includes supporting more research projects as part of the MSM Research Grant Program and working to reduce the waiting period from one year to three months based on the latest evidence.

Supporting research

In October, four additional projects were funded as part of a second round of support available through the MSM Research Grant Program. This unique program, initiated in 2017, now combines research from a total of 15 research teams engaging researchers from across Canada with key partners and stakeholder organizations. Informed by national and international research experts, and actively managed by Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec, the program will generate evidence to inform alternative screening approaches for blood and plasma donors.

The newly funded projects investigate the feasibility of implementing source plasma donation with alternative screening approaches; the impact and opportunities for changes to blood donation screening; and mathematical modelling of the risk of transmission of viruses for various different strategies.

Summaries for all funded research projects are available on blood.ca 

The objective of the MSM Research Grant Program is to ensure the generation of adequate evidence-based research for alternative screening approaches for blood or plasma donors, which could evolve the current eligibility criteria for MSM while maintaining the safety of the blood supply. The program is administered by Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec with funding support from Health Canada.

Estimating risk 

Dr. Sheila O’Brien, associate director of epidemiology and surveillance with Canadian Blood Services, is the lead investigator of a couple of complementary projects that use mathematical modelling to better understand the risk of transfusion-transmitted infections. The projects, titled ‘Mathematical modelling – Comparing HIV risk between MSM donation strategies’, began in 2017 with support from the MSM Research Grant Program.

Dr. O’Brien is working to create and refine mathematical models that will more accurately estimate the risk of an HIV infectious unit of blood being released for transfusion if any changes are made to the eligibility criteria for donors. By comparing the risk associated with various possible changes to the eligibility criteria, informed decisions can be made as to which option may permit men who have sex with men to donate blood without compromising recipient safety and the sufficiency of the supply of blood products.

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Dr. Sheila O'Brien

Mathematical models allow us to estimate the chance of an infectious unit of blood being released to hospitals for transfusion. By changing the data we include in the model, we can compare various donor eligibility criteria and estimate the risk to the safety of the blood supply.” – Dr. Sheila O’Brien

Possible changes to the donor eligibility criteria that are being assessed include individualized risk assessment (in which the MSM question would not be asked) as well as shorter waiting periods.  The mathematical models are informed by data generated by research projects funded by the MSM Research Grant Program.

These interdisciplinary projects bring Canada’s blood operators, Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec, together with multiple national and international collaborators including experts from the Australian Red Cross, the American Red Cross, Public Health England, Santé Publique France, and the San Francisco-based Vitalant Research Institute.

Thanks in large part to the mathematical models already developed by this research, Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec can more accurately estimate the risks associated with reducing the waiting period for men who have sex with men. This refined risk assessment has been instrumental in setting the stage for a submission to our regulator, Health Canada, to reduce the waiting period for men who have sex with men from one year to three months.

Incremental change: submission to Health Canada 

While research efforts are underway, Canadian Blood Services continues to gather data on each blood unit collected, including pathogens tests results, and performs data analysis on a large scale. This surveillance approach has been instrumental in providing up-to-date information on the impact of reducing the waiting period for men who have sex with men to one year on the safety of the blood supply. We have discussed the results of the analysis with stakeholders (such as patient groups and LGBTQ+ groups) and with Héma-Québec, and are submitting a request to our regulator Health Canada to further reduce the waiting period for men who have sex with men to three months. 

This submission will be the latest incremental step by Canadian Blood Services to evolve the eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men. While the process is still in the early stages, we look forward to keeping the public updated on our progress.

As a blood operator, Canadian Blood Services has a responsibility to collect blood from donors who are at low-risk for any infection that could be transmitted through transfusion and who are unlikely to jeopardize their own health by blood donation. Difficult decisions need to be made about who can and cannot give blood. These decisions are not taken lightly and are not intended as value judgments of individuals. Any change to the eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men must be based on scientific evidence, acceptable to patient groups, and approved by our regulator, Health Canada.

More information about the eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men is available on blood.ca

 


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.

Unleash your inner writer – Enter our first-ever lay science writing competition


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Use plain language to tell the story of your research in blood, plasma, stem cells or organs & tissues.

Call for submissions – Deadline: January 18, 2019

Theme: Research that matters!

We’re excited to announce the launch of Canadian Blood Services’ first-ever Lay Science Writing Competition. We’ve connected with key partners in the science writing and research communities (Science Borealis and the Centre for Blood Research) to host a competition that will put your plain language writing skills to the test. 

Submissions are open to members of the Canadian Blood Services extended research trainee network including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research associates directly or indirectly supported by Canadian Blood Services.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to showcase to the public your research in the domain of blood, plasma, stem cells, or organs and tissues and take an exciting new step in the development of your vital communication skills…. Not to mention the opportunity to win a prize and get published. 

This year’s Competition theme is “Research that matters!”. Your entry must describe the impact of your (your lab’s) research on the transfusion and transplantation system and/or on our society. The work must be original, in English, and not previously published. Length of submission must not exceed 800 words. 

Canadian Blood Services will convene a jury to review and rank the submissions. Submissions will be judged on their writing and storytelling merits.

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lay science writing competition poster 2018

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 online platforms and social media channels.

Good luck!!

Find out more about the competition and download the competition guidelines

If you have questions, contact the Centre for Innovation by email at centreforinnovation@blood.ca 

Presented in partnership with the Centre for Blood Research and Science Borealis. 


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.

 

Funding research to improve utilization: Blood Efficiency Accelerator Award Program


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

In 2017, the Centre for Innovation established a new research funding program – the Blood Efficiency Accelerator Award Program or “BEAP”. The BEAP funds research to improve the efficient and appropriate use of blood and blood products.

Quick Facts:

  • BEAP was established in 2017 to support research projects that can improve the efficient and appropriate utilization of blood products, while maintaining the safety of the blood system
  • Applicants to BEAP must be affiliated with Canadian Blood Services or a Canadian academic program as a faculty member
  • All BEAP project teams must include one Canadian Blood Services employee
  • BEAP projects may be supported up to a maximum of $30,000 for one year

 

Why is improving the efficient and appropriate use of blood and blood products important?

The use of blood and blood products is a very common and often life-saving medical intervention. However, blood and blood products are a limited resource and can sometimes be scarce. As with any medical intervention, choosing to administer blood or blood products also involves weighing benefit to the patient against any potential risks. To maximize the benefit of blood and blood products, while ensuring patient safety, it is important to ensure blood and blood products are used correctly and appropriately.

Appropriate and efficient use of blood and blood products doesn’t just happen at the hospital bedside. The collaborative research projects supported by the BEAP may result in changes at Canadian Blood Services or Canadian hospitals at any point in the “life-to-life” continuum. That is, at any point from blood collection, to manufacturing of blood products, distribution of blood products, blood banking, and use at the hospital.

“I am proud that we are able to support the health system by facilitating research on utilization through the Blood Efficiency Accelerator Award Program. This program underscores Canadian Blood Services’ commitment to a sustainable and progressive system that ensures a safe and effective blood supply for all Canadians”, says Dr. Chantale Pambrun, director of the Centre for Innovation at Canadian Blood Services.  

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blood and blood products end to end continuum

Since the BEAP was launched, four projects have been funded. These projects address issues ranging from product quality to clinical utilization.

A team led by Dr. William Sheffield, associate director, research, at the Centre for Innovation is examining the possibility that two technologies – pathogen inactivation and red cell rejuvenation – can be combined to improve red blood cell product safety and efficacy. Dr. Maria Fernandes, associate professor at Université Laval, is leading a project team that includes investigators from Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec. Their project will assess the quality of granulocyte concentrates, a blood product collected and manufactured by Héma-Québec, to optimize their use in transfusion therapy.

Dr. Jason Acker, senior scientist at the Centre for Innovation, and project team members are investigating a non-invasive prenatal genetic test to determine the compatibility of maternal blood with the fetus’s blood. Dr. Guillaume Martel, assistant professor at University of Ottawa, is leading a project team that is examining current transfusion practices in liver surgery patients at The Ottawa Hospital. Their aim is to develop educational initiatives to reduce inappropriate transfusions.

Interested in applying for funding?

If you have a project idea and are affiliated with a Canadian academic institution as a faculty member or with Canadian Blood Services, you are eligible to apply for funding through the BEAP. Project teams can be any size; however, at least one team member must be a Canadian Blood Services employee.

Our 2019 competition opens today and applications must be submitted by January 15, 2019. If you are interested in applying, click here for more information. If you have any questions or need help identifying a team member from Canadian Blood Services, contact the Centre for Innovation by email at centreforinnovation@blood.ca.

Subscribe to the Research & Education Round Up to stay up to date on research publications and 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.

Funding opportunities currently open


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Canadian Blood Services' Centre for Innovation currently has four competitive funding competitions open for applications. All close on November 30, 2018. Read on to see if you or any of your colleagues or students are eligible for these exciting opportunities!

Canadian Blood Services' Graduate Fellowship Program

The Graduate Fellowship Program provides stipend support for young investigators who want to initiate or continue training in the field of blood transfusion and transplantation science. The maximum value of each fellowship is $25,000 per annum, with an additional travel allowance of $1,000 per year. Students may be supported for up to four years. Graduate students undertaking full-time research training in a Canadian institution are eligible to apply.

Learn more about the Canadian Blood Services Graduate Fellowship Program:
Graduate Fellowship Program: Fostering the future of transfusion science research

BloodTechNet Award Program

BloodTechNet seeks to support your bright idea! Funding is available for projects that deliver innovative educational tools and resources to support the development of skills, knowledge and expertise of health professionals in the transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation communities in Canada. Applicants must be a health professional belonging to the transfusion, cellular therapy and/or transplantation communities in Canada.

Learn more about current and previously funded projects through this Program:

James Kreppner Award

This award supports research into the legal and regulatory aspects of donation, collection, storage, and use of blood, blood products, and hematopoietic stem cells; and organ and tissue donation and transplantation. The award honours James Kreppner, a lawyer and patients’ rights advocate, who was committed to blood safety and contributed greatly to Canada’s blood system. Applicants must be a Canadian legal researcher affiliated with a Canadian academic program as a faculty member.

Learn more about previous recipients:

Kenneth J. Fyke Award

This award supports health services and policy research to promote the development of evidence-based Canadian practices and policies in blood transfusion, blood stem cell transplantation, and organ and tissue transplantation for the benefit of Canadian patients. This award honours Kenneth J Fyke, one of Canada’s healthcare leaders and a world authority on healthcare management. Applicants must be Canadian researchers affiliated with a Canadian academic program related to health services or health policy or transfusion medicine, stem cell transplantation, or organ and tissue donation and transplantation medicine.

Learn more about previous recipients: A Q & A with Dr. David Allan


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.

 

Meet the Director: Dr. Chantale Pambrun


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Get to know Dr. Chantale Pambrun, Director, Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation

Previously led by Judie Leach Bennett, who  joined the executive management team as Vice-President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Dr. Chantale Pambrun took over as Director of the Centre for Innovation in December 2017. She was formerly associate director, donor and clinical services and, prior to joining us at Canadian Blood Services, she was the Medical Director of Hematopathology at a tertiary health care centre for women and children in Halifax, NS.

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Dr. Chantale Pambrun

To get to know Dr. Pambrun better, we asked her a few questions…

Tell us a little about yourself… Who are you? Where are you from?

Canada has always been my home. My husband, two children and I have lived in many cities from coast to coast. Our nomad-like existence has made us adaptable and open to new experiences. Much of what drives me in my life and in my career is related to being a positive role model to my children. Each and every day, I strive to contribute to the best of my ability, so that I may inspire them to do the same.

How long have you been with Canadian Blood Services?

I first started with Canadian Blood Services in 2016 as a medical consultant working with Dr. Mindy Goldman in Donor and Clinical Services, which later expanded into an associate medical director role with responsibilities in donor eligibility and the national immunohematology reference laboratory. Donor health is an issue I consider very important in our work and I continue to support work in this area.

Read more: Dr. Pambrun on donor health

 

Tell us about your role with the Centre for Innovation…

In my role as Director of the Centre for Innovation, I work with a team of approximately 80 individuals who each hold a unique set of skills. Collectively the group helps Canadian Blood Services prepare for the future of transfusion and transplantation medicine, all for the benefit of donors and patients. Broadly the group works on discovery research related, applied development, knowledge mobilization and education, as well as health policy and leading practice.

As director, I’m responsible for making sure the team has what they need to succeed. I am very keen on fostering collaboration within our group, across the organization and beyond to the broader science and healthcare community.

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discovery research on display during ISBT 2018

 

Before working at Canadian Blood Services, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had? 

Once upon a time, I worked at the Chrysler minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario. I spent all day installing van doors – the same tedious task, day after day. That experience taught me that I was not built for an assembly line job. I prefer the challenge of a day that has at least a few surprises and puzzles to solve.

What drew you to Canadian Blood Services originally? 

I was drawn to the organization because it provided an opportunity to do meaningful work in a field with many diverse stakeholders. I knew early on that I wouldn’t run out of things to do and that no day would ever be dull…

What do you like most about your job?

The people, the passion, and the cause. I love the diversity of what the Centre for Innovation does and what the group is able to achieve when we work together.

What do you find most exciting about your work?

I enjoy uncovering the untapped opportunities; seeing the team flourish in their day-to-day work; and challenging the status quo.

Read more: Searching for safer red blood cell bags for pediatric patients

What/who inspires you?

I am inspired by people who do what’s right, who are authentic, who are passionate and who engage those around them. 

When you’re not at work, where could we find you?

I most enjoy relaxing with my family, doing the simple things and enjoying life.

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us... 

I’m a cowgirl at heart. I’ve always loved the great outdoors and love riding horses. After medical school I went on a cattle drive with my father in Montana… it was a long-time dream of ours. The simplicity of this life and the big open spaces is something I long for.

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Dr. Chantale Pambrun - leisure

Three words that best describe you:

Enthusiastic, pragmatic, and optimistic. I always try to come to any table with an open mind and try to put a positive spin on whatever the challenge…

You’re happiest when? 

When I am true to myself.

Learn more about Canadian Blood Services' Centre for Innovation and ongoing research and education initiatives


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.

 

Do you suffer from FOMO?


Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Do you suffer from FOMO? Fear of missing out! Fear no more, the event page on Canadian Blood Services' professional education website has you covered!

This is your one-stop shop to learn more about local, national and international education events covering blood, plasma and transfusion, organ and tissue donation and transplantation, as well as hematopoietic stem cells. Here you’ll find a searchable and easy-to-view calendar of conferences, lectures, courses and more.

Check it out! Be THAT person – the one who never misses an abstract deadline or early bird registration rate!

And - to event planners and those in the know - please let us know if we are the ones missing out! If you would like YOUR event displayed on our calendar, please contact us

 

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Left to right: Drs. William Sheffield, Jeff Keirnan, and Mia Golder. Photo credit: CSTM 2017 photo gallery.
CSTM annual meeting

 

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poster session ISBT
ISBT 2018 poster session

 

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CBR event
Centre for Blood Research event (photo courtesy of CBR)

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.

 

Meet the Researcher: Dr. Jason Acker


Thursday, June 07, 2018

For this instalment of “Meet the researcher”, we met with Dr. Jason Acker, a senior research scientist at Canadian Blood Services who specializes in the manufacturing and storage of blood components.  

“What gets me up in the morning is the knowledge that through the work of my team and my collaborators, we are able to have a direct impact on the lives of patients. The technical and scientific support we provide helps the organization make critical decisions about the quality of the products that we are collecting, manufacturing and distributing.” 

~ Dr. Jason Acker, Research Scientist, Canadian Blood Services

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How long have you been with Canadian Blood Services?

As an employee, I’ve been with Canadian Blood Services for more than 15 years. I joined as an associate scientist in 2002. Before that, I worked in the Edmonton Blood Centre as an undergraduate and graduate student for almost 10 years, starting in 1992. This predates the creation of Canadian Blood Services, so I can say that I’ve been associated with the organization for more than 25 years!

What’s your role?

I am a senior research scientist with Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation and a professor in the department of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. My role is multifaceted in that I have research, development, teaching and administrative responsibilities both at Canadian Blood Services and at the University of Alberta. 

Note: Dr. Acker is the recipient of a 2018-19 Killam Professorship. We caught up with him at the International Society of Blood Transfusion congress held in Toronto in early June to ask him about this honour.

 

Where is your lab?

My research laboratory is located on the third floor of Canadian Blood Services’ Edmonton Centre.

Tell us about your area(s) of research.

My research focuses on three distinct areas:

  1. Studying how cells and tissues respond when they are stored outside the body. Our general approach involves examining the natural world to learn how plants and animals survive extreme environmental stress and then assessing the application of these adaptations for clinical medicine. This has enabled us to improve methods for storing cells and tissues for transfusion and transplantation.
  2. Understanding the many factors that influence the safety and quality of blood products in Canada. Donated blood is processed into blood components (red blood cells, platelets, plasma and plasma products) that are tested and stored before being transfused. Safety and quality may be influenced by donor factors (e.g. sex or age of the donor), how the blood is processed into components, storage times before transfusion, and ultimately how the blood products are used in the hospital. We are working to evaluate and understand these influences.
  3. Developing new diagnostic technologies. For the first 10 years of my research career at Canadian Blood Services, we were involved in developing new ways to identify blood groups and test for infectious diseases. We used the same process that is used to manufacture computer chips (microfabrication), to build “lab on a chip” microfluidics devices with miniaturized channels, pumps, valves, and detectors, which can be used to manipulate samples for testing. We initially used this technology for malaria testing of blood donors and for testing maternal blood for fetal DNA to aid in diagnosing hemolytic disease of the newborn. More recently, our “lab on a chip” technology has been expanded to additional applications including environmental monitoring, human and veterinary medicine, and food safety.

 

What are you working on now?

We are currently working with collaborators to understand how donor factors (age, sex, ethnicity, frequency of donation) and changes to donor screening affect the quality of red blood cell products. Our focus has been on understanding the biological effects that donor-associated changes have on blood components to determine if changes to donor screening, blood component manufacturing or storage can be used to enhance the safety and quality of our blood products. We are contributing to national studies linking data about donors, products and recipient outcomes. This information can inform clinical studies to better understand transfusion and blood product utilization. In addition, we are working with international partners to develop innovative tools to examine the effects of donor factors on the quality of blood cells. 

Read more about the effects of donor factors on transfusion outcome:

A major project within our group has been the development and evaluation of new synthetic compounds that can be used to control how and where ice formation occurs in cell and tissue systems that are frozen. We are using these nature-inspired compounds to help improve the processing efficiency, stability and post-thaw quality of red blood cells, platelets, stem cells and other cell and tissue therapies. We plan to expand this work to look at using these compounds to extend the storage time of complex tissues and organs.

In addition to our discovery research activities, we support the medical officers and our supply chain colleagues on various internal development projects. Currently, we are evaluating a new genotyping test that would allow us to determine a baby’s blood group from DNA present in a mother’s blood sample. This may change how prenatal testing is performed.

We are also working to optimize our practices to reduce transfusion-associated graft-versus-host disease (TA-GVHD), a rare but dangerous transfusion complication in which white blood cells from the transfused blood product begin to attack the recipient’s tissues. White blood cells are removed from blood components during manufacturing, but a small number may remain in the transfused blood product. These are normally destroyed by the recipient’s immune system, but patients who are immune-compromised are at risk of developing TA-GVHD. Currently, these patients are transfused with red blood cells that have been irradiated to inactivate white blood cells. We are examining whether irradiation is still needed after implementing red blood cell processing methods that greatly reduce the number of white blood cells in the transfused unit.

Why did you get into science?                          

Right from my early years, I have always been fascinated with puzzles. Whether they are mechanical puzzles, logical puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, or scientific/technical puzzles, I am drawn to try and understand how to solve them. This sparked my desire not only to solve tough technical problems, but also to understand the scientific basis for the solution so that I could make solving the next puzzle easier. I was naturally attracted to science as it provided the tools (the scientific method) and the knowledge that is often necessary to be able to answer the hard questions and solve the tough problems!

What inspires you?

What gets me up in the morning is the knowledge that through the work of my team and my collaborators, we are able to have a direct impact on the lives of patients. The technical and scientific support we provide helps the organization make critical decisions about the quality of the products that we are collecting, manufacturing and distributing. Our basic discovery work can translate into new processes, technologies or commercial products. Unlike an artist whose impact may not be realized until late in life or even well after death, as a research scientist with Canadian Blood Services we can look back at our accomplishments every year and see how we have had the opportunity to have an impact on the lives of Canadians.

I also gain great inspiration from working with really smart, engaged and motivated students and colleagues.  There is nothing more infectious than the energy that comes from interacting with a diverse team of people with broad experiences and knowledge that are collectively working together to solve hard problems.

What do you find most exciting about your work?

The unknown. As the old saying goes, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” To use the puzzle analogy, often we find ourselves with a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle and have no idea what the final picture should look like. This can be both exciting, as you put together the pieces and slowly develop a better idea of what the truth looks like, and terrifying, because there is no guarantee that you will be able to put all the pieces together. Sometimes we have to abandon the puzzle and come back to it after we learn more about how some of the pieces might fit together. Often we are surprised by what we learn in the process. But the feeling you get from putting two pieces of the puzzle together… that is really exciting. 

What work are you most proud of?

Through our research we have been able to develop better methods to evaluate the impact that donor factors, manufacturing and storage have on the quality of blood products and patient outcomes. This has informed policies and practices around the appropriate use of blood products for specific patient groups in Canada and around the world, and has led to the development of specialized products for use in transfusion and transplantation medicine. I am very proud to have the opportunity to work with an outstanding team of trainees, scientific and medical colleagues, industry partners and Canadian Blood Services staff (supply chain, IT and quality control) on projects to support innovative changes in transfusion medicine.

Read more about manufacturing methods that affect quality:

ResearchUnit: Data mining: Digging for deeper understanding of blood components and transfusion outcomes

RED blog post: How it’s made matters: Manufacturing method linked to cellular damage in red blood cells

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

Just look up…as a pilot and chief flying instructor at my local soaring club, I spend my weekends either teaching people how to fly gliders or heading out on my own across the Alberta prairies for a “dance amongst the clouds”. There is no greater joy than silently soaring under a puffy cumulus cloud with a hawk off your wing tip! I’ve been flying airplanes and teaching people to fly for 30 years and this year I had the privilege of seeing my 16-year-old daughter fly solo for the first time.

 

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Visit our Funded Research Projects page to view projects funded by Canadian Blood Services.

 

Meet the Researcher: Dr. Alan Lazarus


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

For this installment of “Meet the Researcher” we caught up with Dr. Alan Lazarus a research scientist and immunologist at Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation.

How long have you been at Canadian Blood Services?

I've been working with the blood service in Canada since 1994.

What’s your role?

As a Canadian Blood Services scientist, my role is to lead research studies that further our understanding of how therapeutic immunoglobulin products like intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) and anti-D work in situations in which they are used. As an example, IVIg is a very expensive biologic made from the plasma of thousands of blood donors and it is used to treat patients with a variety of autoimmune diseases or inflammatory states. Although IVIg is a wonderful biological treatment for patients, we still have a poor understanding of how it actually works in the body.  One of my goals is to understand how IVIg works so we can design a synthetic IVIg substitute that could be used in patients.  We have already created a few synthetic substitutes for IVIg used to treat mice with autoimmune disease and the next step is to transition this work to treating patients.

Dr. Lazarus’ work has helped advance understanding of how IVIg works to treat certain diseases. In 2006, he was the senior author of a study published in “Nature Medicine”, which demonstrated that IVIg’s beneficial effect in treating the auto-immune disease Immune Thrombocytopenia (or ITP) appears to involve the interaction of IVIg with an activating receptor (called FcyR) on immune cells. This had not been previously reported, and was an important step in laying the foundation for subsequent scientific investigation into the effects of IVIg.

Where is your lab? 

My lab is located at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Tell us about your area(s) of research...

I have two major areas of research.  The first area is in IVIg replacements in murine models of autoimmune disease. The second area is trying to understand how anti-D works to prevent hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn in a murine model. In both cases we are attempting to derive a synthetic replacement for IVIg and anti-D. IVIg and anti-D are made by pooling large numbers of blood donations together to make a final product. While IVIg and anti-D are both considered safe, we want to make synthetic substitutes rather than treat patients with pooled plasma products.  Although there are a variety of reasons why this is important, currently Canada only collects enough plasma to treat roughly 30% of patients with IVIg. The remainder of the IVIg must be purchased on the open market in competition with other countries. If we did not have access to the IVIg on the open market, then most patients would go without.  We wish to avoid this and therefore we continue to perform work towards finding IVIg and anti-D substitutes.

Learn more about immune globulins and hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn in our Clinical Guide to Transfusion on our Professional Education website.

What are you working on now?

We have recently made a cool discovery in our mouse models.  One of the treatments for a particular type of autoimmune disease called immune thrombocytopenia (ITP) is the use of anti-D. Anti-D is supplied by Canadian Blood Services for the treatment of ITP as well as the prevention of hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn.  It is not known to be beneficial in any other diseases. Based on some interesting results we hypothesized that anti-D may in fact be beneficial in other mouse models of autoimmunity or inflammatory diseases.  We therefore tested this and surprisingly discovered that anti-D works in mouse models of inflammatory arthritis and transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI).  TRALI, although very rare, is a leading cause of death in those receiving blood product transfusions. Therefore, the knowledge that anti-D could be used to treat TRALI as well as autoimmune diseases other than ITP is good news for patients. 

Learn about Dr. Lazarus’ use of IVIg to prevent TRALI in the ResearchUnit: “Research into TRALI therapies generates results that are a TAD interesting!”

Why did you get into science?

Way back in the old days I was thinking of going into either science or engineering.  Since my math skills were not the greatest I thought, let’s give science (biology) a try.  It was a great decision and I have never looked back.

What inspires you?

The scientific process is what inspires me most in my job.  I think it’s amazing that even though we might make mistakes in science and biology (I think we at first get most things wrong), with time and the desire of most scientists to try to disprove dogma, we eventually get it right. 

What do you find most exciting about your work?

The possibility that something we create in the laboratory and test in mice may one day make it to patient care.

What work are you most proud of?

I am proud of many things that come out of our laboratory and the people who perform the actual experiments.  I don’t think I can pick just one or two things.

Read more about the newest postdoctoral fellow to join the Lazarus lab in R.E.D.

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

Probably in traffic… but occassionally on a bog in Ireland. 

 

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Subscribe to our Research & Education Round Up to stay up to date on research publications and funding opportunities. 

Visit our Funded Research Projects to view projects funded by Canadian Blood Services.


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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