Dr. Geraldine Walsh

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

Meet the Researcher: Dr. Mel Krajden


Thursday, December 20, 2018

This week, we chatted with Canadian Blood Services’ adjunct scientist, Dr. Mel Krajden, about his research work at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and his role as a Canadian Blood Services adjunct scientist.

Where do you work and what is your role?

I am the Medical Director of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control Public Health Laboratory (BCCDC PHL) and I have a special interest in hepatitis and viral detection methods as well as in health services policy.

Tell us about your area of research.

My laboratory research uses molecular techniques to: diagnose viruses; assess the correlation between infection and clinical disease; monitor the effectiveness of antivirals; and track microbial infections to understand their epidemiology, including how microbial infections spread.

My clinical research involves integrating prevention and care services for hepatitis. Specifically, we are using molecular epidemiology/phylogenetics – the study of how viruses spread and how strains of viruses are related – to understand transmission of hepatitis. We are also using “big data” to help understand how to measure population-level health outcomes and inform policy making to improve health.

I also have extensive clinical trials expertise and have served as a laboratory coordinator for a number of industry sponsored clinical trials.

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In late 2018, Dr. Krajden was the Chair of the Review Panel convened to review proposals submitted to the second round of funding through the MSM Research Grant Program. Learn more about this unique research program, the projects it supports, and recent progress towards achieving the Program’s goal of generating adequate evidence to evolve the current eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men.

What expertise/knowledge/experience led you to becoming a Canadian Blood Services adjunct scientist?

I have been a member of the Canadian Blood Services Scientific and Research Advisory Committee (SRAC) since its creation, and provide a public health perspective on communicable disease conditions.

As part of my role on the SRAC, I have been requested to provide input on transmissible agents such as hepatitis E virus and its implications to transfusion.

I have also been involved in the complex and controversial reviews of deferral periods for men who have sex with men (MSM) and Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer (LBGTQ) communities over the past few decades.

How does being a Canadian Blood Services adjunct scientist influence your work?

I have been a Canadian Blood Services adjunct scientist for about two decades! Earlier, I was directly involved in bloodborne transmission research. I used molecular epidemiology to help Canadian Blood Services identify the source of infection when nucleic acid testing (NAT) first identified a positive test result for hepatitis C virus in a blood donation. Now times and technology have changed. My role with Canadian Blood Services is largely advisory, while my own research supports the generic use of microbial phylogenetics to understand transmission dynamics. We are also working to understand how “big data” can be used to understand population health and drive policy.

What are you working on now?  

Our team is working on processes to integrate de-identified genomics data with population-level administrative data. Our goal is to understand how to optimize health services delivery design and use big data to drive health policy.

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"Science and medicine is like an addiction; for every answer, there are tons of questions to solve every day." - Dr. Mel Krajden, B.C. Centre for Disease Control Public Health Laboratory

What inspires you?  

Realizing how little I know.

What do you find most exciting about your work?

Trying not to accept no as an answer.

What work are you most proud of?

Our integrated hepatitis data cohort of 1.7 million British Columbians.

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

Skiing, cycling or hiking.

 


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.

 

Research Unit: Exploring alternatives to fresh blood


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Our latest Centre for Innovation ResearchUnit is a collaborative effort between Centre for Innovation adjunct scientist, Dr. Jelena Holovati, and Canadian Blood Services scientists, Dr. Donald Branch and Dr. Jason Acker.  

For patients with rare blood types, we perform cross-matching tests to match patients with donors and avoid potentially serious transfusion reactions. One such test – the monocyte monolayer assay –  has been limited in its usefulness by practical restrictions, for example, the need to obtain a fresh blood sample.

Exploring alternatives to fresh blood, the researchers developed a freezing technique to store cells isolated from blood components leftover from Canadian Blood Services' manufacturing processes.

In the assay, these cells performed as well as cells isolated from fresh blood. Using cells sourced from a product usually discarded during blood component manufacturing increases the usefulness of this assay, making it easier to get the right blood product to the right patient.

To learn more, read our ResearchUnit about this important work here.

ResearchUnits 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.

 


 

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.

 

A mission to Mars caps off summer at the Centre for Blood Research


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Research day celebrates the end of the Centre for Blood Research Summer Studentship Program, which is partially supported by Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation. A perennial highlight of the Centre for Blood Research academic calendar, this year’s event was inspiring and fun.

Summer students spend the sunniest months of the year working in laboratories affiliated with the Centre for Blood Research (CBR). For many of the students, this is their first opportunity to get hands-on experience in a laboratory. But doing laboratory research is only part – albeit a critical part – of the role of a scientist. Research results need to be compiled and communicated to complete any scientific endeavor.

At the CBR research day, every summer student presents an oral and a poster presentation describing their work. This opportunity is not always available to students at this level, and nicely rounds out their academic experience for the summer. Congratulations to all the CBR summer students on their enthusiastic participation in the program and their excellent presentations and posters.

 

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Poster time at the 2018 Research Day at UBC's Centre for Blood Research.

Kudos to all the CBR research day winners! And, we’re proud to note that two of whom are from labs (Devine and Pryzdial) that are affiliated with Canadian Blood Services.

Kaelin Fleming (Devine laboratory) winner of the best oral presentation for her talk “Protein biomarkers for identification of poor storing red cell concentrates”

Nima Derakhshan (Rossi laboratory) winner of the best undergraduate poster: “VEGFA in skeletal muscle regeneration: something more than an angiogenic signaling”

Bryan Lin (Pryzdial laboratory) winner of the best graduate poster: “Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Acquires and Mimics the Host Coagulation Protein Tissue Factor”

 

An out-of-this-world keynote, indeed

This year’s keynote presenter was out of this world! Originally from Montreal, Dr. Farah Alibay is an aerospace engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles. She is working on the Mars InSight mission, which launched in May this year, and will land on Mars in November. The lander carries instruments designed to study the interior of Mars.

Dr. Alibay described her role as an engineer on this project, the excitement of launch day, and her nerves as the mission hits its halfway point and landing day comes closer and closer. Most of all, in describing her journey to become an NASA engineer, she inspired the audience to pursue their dreams no matter the perceived obstacles.

 

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Dr. Farah Alibay (front row in green) with the Centre for Blood Research summer students. Photo courtesy of the Centre for Blood Research. 

As the new academic year kicks off and the summer students return to their courses, we wish them the best of luck, and hope their summer experience at the CBR will serve them well as they continue to chase their dreams, scientific or otherwise!

Thinking of becoming a summer student yourself?

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

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

 


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. Jelena Holovati


Tuesday, September 04, 2018

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

Where do you work and what is your role?

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

How long have you been with Canadian Blood Services?

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Dr. Jelena Holovati

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

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

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

Tell us about your areas of research…

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

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

What are you working on now?

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

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

Why did you get into science?

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

What inspires you?

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

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

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

 

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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.

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


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

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 just presented at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Boston, and has created quite a buzz. I chatted to our Chief Scientist, Dr. Dana Devine, and  Dr. Jayachandran Kizhakkedathu to learn more.

Led by Dr. Stephen Withers, a professor in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry at UBC, researchers have discovered an enzyme that can turn type A, B or AB blood into type O.

So, what is this approach about?

The antigens that determine your blood type are sugar molecules. These act like flags on the surface of red blood cells: group A blood has A antigens, group B has B antigens, and group AB has both. Type O blood has no flags, so the red cells cannot be recognized by any immune system and can be safely transfused to patients with other blood types. Dr. Withers and his team have found an enzyme that can chop the A and B flags off the red blood cell surface, converting all red blood cells to type O.

The team has been exploring this approach for several years.  In 2015, with funding from the Canadian Blood Services Centre for Innovation and other partners, the researchers used a bioengineering approach to improve upon an enzyme that can cleave red blood cell antigens. While this work was promising, they understood quickly that they would need a more efficient enzyme.  

Dr. Kizhakkedathu, based at the UBC Centre for Blood Research, is on the team conducting the research. I asked Dr. Kizhakkedathu how this new study expands upon their 2015 work.

 

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He explained:

“In the previous study we took a known enzyme that worked on one of the A [antigen] sub-types, but not on others. Type A blood has a very complex sugar structure and 4-6 different sub-types are known.  We used the technique of directed evolution to increase its activity against another sub-type almost 200-fold. However, it became apparent that using this approach to convert all A sub-types could prove very challenging. We decided to take a different approach and look to see whether Mother Nature had perhaps already made good enzymes”.

So where would Mother Nature hide these enzymes? Knowing that the gut is lined with glycoproteins that have sugars, including A and B antigens, the researchers postulated that some gut bacteria may have developed enzymes efficient at cleaving A and B antigens to derive energy from these sugars. They used an approach called “metagenomics” to survey possible enzymes in gut bacteria, and found several good candidates. They uncovered a new class of enzyme that can cleave A antigens 30 times more efficiently than the previous best candidate.

As Dr. Kizhakkedathu notes, “This new enzyme system is very powerful and works at very low concentrations (in low micrograms/mL) to convert A-type blood to O-type blood, and is better than anything available today.”

What does this mean for blood operators and suppliers?

Being able to convert any red blood cells into type O could help inventory pressures. As Dr. Devine explains, “One of the main challenges with maintaining an adequate blood supply in developed countries is that the [clinical] use of group O is not in proportion to the incidence of that blood group in the population.  This is because in emergency/trauma settings, we often do not know the blood type of the patient and there is no time to figure that out before transfusing blood components. So, we use group O red blood cells (and group AB plasma).  Although all blood services reach out to their O donors frequently, group O, especially group O-negative blood, is always the smallest proportion of our inventory.” 

 

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Dr. Devine calls this new research a “game-changer”, “This work is very promising. About 10 years ago, our industry had gotten very close to having a process that could convert A, B or AB blood types to group O. It was being commercialized by a company in the US, but at the end of the day, the main problem was the excessive cost of the enzymes required to remove the A and B sugars. The work of Dr. Withers and colleagues may have solved this problem. He has figured out a way to make these enzymes more efficient and so much less is needed.”

Will Canadian Blood Services provide only type O blood in the future?

Dr. Devine thinks not:

“This technology permits us to create a ‘work around’ for the disproportionate demand for type O red blood cells, by turning the excess inventory of other blood groups (esp. type AB) into type O. While it is probably unnecessary to consider modifying all non-O red blood cell units, this technology will be important during a seasonal shortage of group O (e.g. summers in Canada), an anticipated disaster planning (e.g. hurricanes in the Caribbean, or troop deployment to dangerous parts of the world), or stocks for pre-hospital transfusion (e.g. blood carried on Life Flight ambulance programs).“

Dr. Devine was also keen to point out that this would not lessen our need for blood donors. While it may help ease type O shortages, the same volume of blood donors and donations will be required.

So, what’s next for the research team?

Dr. Kizhakkedathu explains:

“The next steps are all about safety to make sure that we have not made inadvertent changes to the red blood cells through this enzymatic modification process. In addition, we are performing detailed serology and cross-matching experiments using diverse A donors, and donor serum from different blood groups.”

Dr. Devine agrees. “It will be important to demonstrate that the blood product is safe for patients. We will also need to better understand the manufacturing process, and how well the blood stores after the enzyme treatment.”

Much of this future work will take place in collaboration with Canadian Blood Services. The researchers will be working with the Centre for Innovation development facility in Vancouver to test blood from diverse donors and collect large volumes of blood to test the efficiency of their enzyme system. Detailed serological studies will also be conducted with Dr. Andrew Shih at Vancouver General Hospital.

Is this the breakthrough needed to make engineered universal blood a reality?

Only time will tell, but right now, the future of universal blood is bright!

This exciting development is the latest in a long quest to “make” universal blood. Apart from enzymatic conversion, other approaches are also being investigated. Scientists at the Centre for Innovation are masking the antigens on red blood cells so that the immune system cannot recognize them. Scientists in the UK and elsewhere are working to make synthetic red blood cells a reality. These synthetic red blood cells could be engineered as universal blood or even tailored to a specific patient’s needs. While there has been some exciting progress, the economic and logistic feasibility of synthetic red blood cells remains unclear.

Learn 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.

In Memory of Dr. Celso Bianco


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

On August 16, 2018, we lost much valued colleague, mentor and friend who had great influence on transfusion medicine around the world. Dr. Celso Bianco served as the Chairman of Canadian Blood Services’ Scientific Research Advisory Council from 2002–2012 and was the recipient of a Canadian Blood Services’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

Dr. Bianco has spent more than 40 years researching, teaching and managing issues related to transfusion medicine, transfusion-transmitted diseases and blood safety. He authored or co-authored more than 200 scientific publications on a wide range of topics, including plasma membrane receptors of lymphocytes and macrophages, immunology, infectious diseases, and transfusion medicine.

Throughout the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, Dr. Bianco played an important role in the research of transfusion transmitted diseases. His publications regarding screening methodology, donor notification and counselling of infected donors provided strategic support for large blood operators.

Over the course of his career, he became a world-renowned expert on blood-related medical practices, diseases and safety, providing breakthrough scientific research and guidance to the Canadian blood system. Through his membership in the Canadian Red Cross Transfusion Transmissible Diseases Working Group (1995–1998) and his position as Chair of the Canadian Blood Services Scientific and Research Advisory Committee (2002–2012), he provided essential counsel and support to Canadian Blood Services.

Dr. Bianco consistently demonstrated not only scientific excellence, but the utmost kindness as well as wisdom, diplomacy and dignity. He has served as a colleague, mentor and friend for innumerable transfusion medicine professionals all over the world.

He will be greatly missed. Our sincere condolences to his family.

 

 

 

Research Unit: Understanding platelets to better treat patients


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

In brief: Platelets contribute to the steady-state production of thrombopoietin (a hormone that regulates the production of platelets) by the liver. This has important implications in bleeding diseases and immune-mediated thrombocytopenias (conditions in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys blood platelets).

Our latest  ResearchUnit comes from the laboratory of Dr. Heyu Ni, a Canadian Blood Services scientist based at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto. Dr. Ni studies platelets, tiny cell fragments circulating in our blood, that are essential for wound repair and in stopping blood loss after injury.

With a biological lifespan of about 10 days, platelets are constantly produced by larger cells in our bone marrow. Dr. Ni’s work has uncovered a previously unknown link in the regulation of platelet production. Published in the journal Blood, his team shows that a platelet protein called GPIbα stimulates the liver to produce thrombopoietin, a hormone that plays an important role in controlling platelet production.

This discovery challenges prevailing theories of how thrombopoietin production is controlled. It may also explain unexpectedly low thrombopoietin levels observed in some patients with immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (low platelet counts). This work helps us better understand the cause of low platelet counts in these patients, and may help inform treatment choices.

To learn more, read our Research Unit about this important work here.

 

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.

 

Meet the Researcher: Dr. Elisabeth Maurer


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

This week, we chat with Canadian Blood Services’ adjunct scientist, Dr. Elisabeth Maurer, about her work to understand blood platelets for transfusion, the technology she has developed to help determine “what’s in the bag”, and what inspires her to keep researching these small but dynamic cell fragments that are so critical to bleeding, clotting, and the immune system.

Where do you work and what is your role?

I work at LightIntegra Technology Inc., a company that was founded in 2008 while I was scientist at Canadian Blood Services. I am the chief technology officer. I also hold a position as clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia.

 

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Tell us about your area of research...

My research is all about platelets. It started with my PhD project on dynamic light scattering (DLS) and platelets, which had the lofty goal to determine whether dynamic light scattering could be used to diagnose patients with atherosclerosis. At that time, nobody had used dynamic light scattering — a technique which uses lasers to measure the size of molecules or particles in solution — for platelet testing, let alone in a clinical setting, so I had to find out what the best conditions were for measuring live platelets. I quickly learned that these tiny cells are very sensitive to any kind of stress, and I was most intrigued by their temperature sensitivity. Platelets dramatically change their shape when exposed to room temperature, which prompted the question of its biological purpose. Platelets are the primary carriers of serotonin in the blood, and since one of the parameters that is controlled by serotonin is body temperature I thought that this might provide the link.

I developed an assay for serotonin and found very interesting connections: circulating serotonin is only present in warm-blooded animals (including humans)1 and the serotonin content in platelets changes when platelets are exposed to different temperatures.2 As activated platelets are more sensitive to cooling, I incorporated this temperature sensitivity to test platelet activation status with ThromboLUX, a machine that measures dynamic light scattering.

"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

Learn more about how Dr. Maurer uses dynamic light scattering to assess platelet quality here.

Interestingly, platelets form microparticles – small membrane-bound vesicles that fragment off the platelet – during activation, and it turned out that a high microparticle content predicted a higher temperature sensitivity, so now the focus is on microparticles. Recently I have been fascinated by how this all came together, and I have visualized the connections in what I call the Map of the World of Platelets, a work in progress.

What expertise/knowledge/experience led you to becoming a Canadian Blood Services adjunct scientist?

I bring to Canadian Blood Services my passion for platelets and my desire to improve patient care. I worked as a Canadian Blood Services scientist for 12 years before I started LightIntegra to continue the development of ThromboLUX, a system to determine platelet activation status based on the level of fragmentation into microparticles. The early patents around the ThromboLUX technology are owned by Canadian Blood Services and licensed to LightIntegra.

ThromboLUX allows quick routine screening of platelet-rich plasma from donors or samples from platelet concentrates for transfusion. From thousands of tests performed in laboratories worldwide we learned that microparticles are early indicators of platelet activation, and are associated with many conditions, even when a person has mild or no symptoms. Up to 50% of North American platelet donations may actually contain activated platelets, and I believe that these are not optimal treatment for blood cancer patients. They modulate the immune system, may inhibit T-cells (white blood cells)  and are quickly removed from circulation, thus not providing the intended benefit to these patients.

However, activated platelets are stickier and it has long been suggested that they are the preferred treatment for actively bleeding patients, for example wounded soldiers. I very much hope that blood banks will embrace a routine practice of screening their platelets for activation status and directing non-activated platelets for transfusion to blood cancer patients and activated platelets to bleeding patients. Since Canadian Blood Services is one of two providers of platelets in Canada, I hope that increasing evidence will benefit not only Canadian Blood Services, but also the hospitals and patients Canadian Blood Services serves.

How does being a Canadian Blood Services adjunct scientist influence your work?

I participate in webinars and educational calls which allow me to learn about new developments at Canadian Blood Services and in transfusion medicine in general. Canadian Blood Services is one of the most progressive suppliers of blood products in the world and Canadian Blood Services’ scientists are doing cutting edge research. As an adjunct scientist, I benefit from the tremendous knowledge base and access to technology, as well as to blood products through Canadian Blood Services' blood for research lab, a special blood donation clinic and small-scale production facility in Vancouver linked to the Centre for Innovation, where blood from deferred donors is collected and used in research projects.

What are you working on now?  

I am working on the ThromboLUX microparticle test to screen for platelet activation status. I collaborate with many scientists worldwide to understand donor variability and its effect on platelet products and most importantly the impact platelet activation status has on blood cancer patients. Preliminary data suggest that exclusively transfusing non-activated platelets to blood cancer patients reduces the number of transfusions they need, and thus reduces the number of refractory cases. It is my vision that my work could improve the lives of others – if platelet screening could reduce platelet refractoriness and save more lives this would be very rewarding.

Why did you get into science?

I studied chemistry because I was intrigued by the amazing concept that a finite number of building blocks – the elements of the periodic table - make up everything. I wanted to learn how millions of different substances are formed from these building blocks and how their interactions produce and sustain life – or not.

What inspires you?  

Opportunities to learn inspire me. This is not limited to scientific learning, it also includes spiritual learning and new physical experiences. I love to find out more and connect the dots, fit the pieces of a puzzle together, see things from different perspectives — for me life is just one fascinating journey. Sometimes I find it difficult to prioritize.

What do you find most exciting about your work?

How everything comes together like the pieces of a puzzle. When the pieces fit like they do in the Map of the World of Platelets it is directly applicable to my own health so my work is a constant learning experience about myself and the world around me and that is wonderfully exciting. The other part is sharing what I have learned with others so they can hopefully also benefit.

What work are you most proud of?

I would like to rephrase this question a bit because what I am most proud of is, at the same time, what required the most help from others for which I am immensely grateful. I am proud of LightIntegra and ThromboLUX which at all stages required team work from highly dedicated, enthusiastic and skilled people, as well as the understanding and support of family and friends.

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

I actually spend most of my working hours in offices, but when I am not at work you can find me on a yoga mat, somewhere in nature with my family – like hiking the North Coast Trail with my husband Norbert or in Nelson Lakes National Park in New Zealand with sons and girlfriends, or curled up with a good book. I also enjoy doing something creative like knitting my own design.

 

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References:

1. Maurer-Spurej E. Circulating serotonin in vertebrates. Cell Mol Life Sci 2005;62: 1881-9.

2. Maurer-Spurej E, Pfeiler G, Maurer N, Lindner H, Glatter O, Devine DV. Room temperature activates human blood platelets. Laboratory Investigation 2001;81.


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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