Dr. Kendra Hodgkinson

Kendra Hodgkinson is a scientific writer at Canadian Blood Services’ Centre for Innovation. Kendra first became interested in science communication and outreach during her PhD in cancer research, when she was an active volunteer with Let’s Talk Science and with Science Travels. Leading fun, hands-on science activities in schools sparked a passion for sharing the excitement of science with everyday Canadians. In her current role, she helps scientists at Canadian Blood Services share their research findings in peer-reviewed journals and in more accessible publications such as Centre for Innovation ResearchUnits and the RED blog.

Nancy Heddle – integrating expertise to make transfusion safer


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Meet Nancy Heddle, an adjunct scientist with Canadian Blood Services and a professor at McMaster University. She has a background in health sciences, with a M.Sc. from McMaster and a certification from the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science. Her main expertise is in blood banking, clinical epidemiology and biostatistics.

Nancy Heddle is the research director of the McMaster Centre for Transfusion Research (MCTR) and also directs the Quality Essentials for Safe Transfusion (QUEST) Hamilton-Niagara program.

Somehow, she also manages to find the time to do her own research, which focuses on improving evidence-based decision-making in transfusion clinical practice. Her interests span many areas, including transfusion outcomes, clinical thresholds for transfusion, pathogen reduction in platelet transfusions, and treatments for blood disorders.

Red blood cell storage time – how long is too long?

There is no question that blood transfusions save lives. Whether some blood products lead to better patient outcomes than others, however, has been the subject of much discussion. Nancy Heddle has been at the forefront of investigating some of the big questions around the use of blood products – like storage time and best manufacturing processes – and their link to transfusion outcomes.

 

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A large international study led by Nancy Heddle recently generated a lot of buzz. You may have seen this CBC article about the effects of red blood cell storage time on transfusion outcome, based on this news release from McMaster University. The study was published October 24 in the New England Journal of Medicine and was highlighted in this month’s Research Unit on the blood.ca website.

ResearchUnit: Older blood as good as new: no harmful effects of storage time before transfusion

In North American blood banks, red blood cells are stored for up to 42 days between collection and transfusion. What happens during those 42 days? Red blood cells remain metabolically active and slowly use up their energy stores, causing gradual molecular changes in the cells. Some cells burst, releasing metabolic chemicals into the storage bag. These changes are collectively referred to as the red blood cell “storage lesion.”

But does this “storage lesion” actually affect patient outcome? Researchers confirmed in the 1970s that blood stored for up to 42 days is safe, but about ten years ago, several studies raised concerns that transfusion outcomes might be worse when blood is stored for more than two weeks.

To address these concerns, Nancy Heddle and her collaborators at six hospitals around the world (Canada, the United States, Australia and Israel) initiated the Informing Fresh versus Old Red Cell Management (INFORM) trial. In this study, patients requiring transfusion were randomly assigned to receive the freshest-available or the oldest-available red blood cell units, then transfusion outcomes were assessed by medical staff.

The INFORM trial researchers found that, in fact, older blood is just as good as newer blood; patients transfused with the older blood did not have a higher mortality rate than those given newer blood.

With this work, Nancy Heddle and her collaborators have helped reassure clinicians and patients that no harm will come from using blood that is several weeks old, as long as it is stored appropriately and remains within the current 42-day storage limit.

This kind of research is important to ensure that Canadian Blood Services is following the best possible procedures to maximize the safety and effectiveness of our blood products. We are proud to have talented scientists like Nancy Heddle on our research team.

The ability to link donor, blood manufacturing and storage characteristics with patient outcomes has the potential to radically change how clinical practice is informed by research and large data analytics. Earlier this year Nancy Heddle also found some associations between manufacturing processes and patient outcome.  Read more 

Congratulations to Nancy Heddle

The AABB, an international, not-for-profit association dedicated to improving patient outcomes in transfusion medicine and cellular therapies, recently recognized Nancy Heddle’s many contributions to clinical research with a prestigious award: the Emily Cooley Memorial Award and Lectureship. This award “recognizes an individual who has demonstrated teaching ability and has made a major contribution to the field of transfusion medicine or cellular therapies”.

 

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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.

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.

 

Expanding our cord blood for research program


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Throughout pregnancy, the umbilical cord nourishes the unborn baby with blood rich in nutrients and oxygen. The blood that remains in the cord and placenta after birth is full of stem cells. These cells are like the blood-forming stem cells that can be collected from the bone marrow or circulating blood of adults.

Transplantation with blood-forming stem cells can help save the lives of people with blood cancers or diseases like aplastic anemia. For these transplants to be successful, the donor must be very carefully matched with the recipient. Even with a registry of diverse donors like Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch, which has connections to millions of donors worldwide, many Canadian patients are not able to find a suitable stem cell donor.

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That’s where cord blood comes in. The stem cells in cord blood are immature, which means they do not need to be matched as closely with the patient. Cord blood is collected and stored ahead of time, so it is available for immediate transplantation. On the other hand, storing cord blood is costly and the number of stem cells in each cord blood unit is low, which can make it harder for the transplant to succeed.

Canadian Blood Services’ National Cord Blood Bank collects cord blood at hospitals in four Canadian cities (Ottawa, Brampton, Edmonton and Vancouver) and prepares it for frozen storage. Banked cord blood must meet strict quality standards to ensure that it is both safe and effective.

What happens if the cord blood collected by Canadian Blood Services doesn't meet those standards? To avoid discarding the precious donated cord blood, Canadian Blood Services has a Cord Blood for Research program. To learn more, I sat down with Dr. Mia Golder, manager of research and training programs and the former coordinator of the Cord Blood for Research program.

 

A Q&A with Mia Golder

What is the Cord Blood for Research program?

Launched in August 2014, it is a partnership between Canadian Blood Services and The Ottawa Hospital. Cord blood units that are not suitable for banking are provided, with mothers’ consent, to investigators that pursue approved discovery or development research. Since its inception, the program has distributed more than 400 fresh cord blood units collected at The Ottawa Hospital to researchers. In the absence of the program, these fresh cord blood units that did not meet the initial criteria for storage in the Cord Blood Bank were discarded.

What’s new with the program?

Starting in November 2016, we are also distributing frozen cord blood units. These units have met the initial criteria for storage in the Cord Blood Bank and are processed to be banked for future transplantation. However, during the manufacturing process, the units fail to meet all of the quality criteria so they cannot be banked. Instead of discarding these units, we are now offering them to researchers. For a detailed description of these cord blood units, please see the product specifications sheet.

What types of research does this program support?

Our goal is to facilitate research that promotes advances in the fields of transfusion, cellular therapies, and transplantation medicine in Canada.

Some of the projects we support are investigating ways to improve current cord blood use. For example, investigators are exploring ways to grow more blood-forming stem cells to optimize cord blood transplantation. Others are investigating new regenerative therapies such as using stem cells in cord blood to treat cardiovascular diseases. Others are using those precious cord blood samples for fundamental research that may one day lead to better therapies for acute myeloid leukemia or other diseases.

To learn more about the types of research projects that are supported by the Cord Blood for Research Program, check out the project summaries here.  

 

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What is the research impact of this program … and ultimately how might it improve patient care?

It is difficult for researchers to obtain cord blood if they are not associated with a hospital or if processes are not in place to facilitate the donation of cord blood. Relying on processes in place through the cord blood bank, this program makes it easier for researchers to get high quality and ethically sourced research samples for their projects.

By providing cord blood products to Canadian researchers, the Cord Blood for Research Program has the potential to generate improvements in cord blood banking and (or) transplant processes that would increase the clinical utility of cord blood. The research supported through our program may also lead to the development of new therapies that could eventually be used to treat patients.

All of this is made possible by the generous gift of cord blood donors! We thank all the mothers who consent to donate their child’s cord blood for research.

How do researchers go about requesting cord blood?

To request cord blood products (fresh or frozen), researchers must follow a few simple steps. The whole process generally takes about six weeks from receiving the application to approving the project. It starts with the researcher applying to Canadian Blood Services and it ends with the completion of a material transfer agreement between the researcher and Canadian Blood Services. See the detailed process here.

How do mothers go about donating their baby’s cord blood for lifesaving transplantation or research?

It’s really easy! First, read the information kit. Then fill out the forms and give them to your healthcare providers on your delivery day or at one of your prenatal visits. If you are in Ottawa, make sure you tick the box that says “Research Opt-In” at the end of the form. That’s it — your medical staff and Canadian Blood Services will take care of the rest.

 

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If you would like to learn about research projects supported by this program, read more here.

If you are looking for more information about donating cord blood, read more here.

 


Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration.

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.

Supporting vital research through our Centre for Innovation


Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Canadian Blood Services offers several competitive research funding opportunities including operating grants and fellowship awards.

One of our flagship programs is the Intramural Research Grant (IRG) opportunity, which supports collaborative research projects related to the mission of Canadian Blood Services. (To apply for the IRG, applicants may be either Canadian Blood Services Scientists or Medical Officers or Adjunct Scientists and are required to organize themselves into teams of at least two investigators.)

These research projects increase knowledge about blood transfusion and blood-related stem cell transplantation, with the overall goal of improving the safety and efficacy of blood, blood products, and the blood system. Since 1998, Canadian Blood Services has funded more than 75 projects through the IRG program.

Canadian Blood Services’  IRG Research Priority Areas
  • Promoting appropriate blood product utilization
  • Ensuring an adequate blood product supply
  • Minimizing the adverse effects of blood product transfusion
  • Optimizing blood product quality
  • Replacing or improving blood products through new therapies or technologies

 

This year, Ontario-based researchers Dr. Alan Lazarus and Dr. Bill Sheffield are two recipients of IRG funding.

Dr. Alan Lazarus – Antibodies to human CD44 as an IVIg replacement in the treatment of autoimmune disease

Dr. Lazarus is a Canadian Blood Services scientist whose research focuses on autoimmune blood diseases, particularly immune thrombocytopenia. In this bleeding disorder, a faulty immune system attacks and destroys platelets, which are blood cell fragments required for normal blood clotting. People with low platelet levels have trouble controlling internal and external bleeding, causing problems ranging from bruising and nosebleeds to even (rarely) death.

 

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Dr. Lazarus has recently discovered that a “designer antibody” can be used to treat immune thrombocytopenia in a mouse model. To determine whether this treatment would also work in humans, a similar human-targeted “designer antibody” must be developed.

Dr. Lazarus has been awarded IRG funding to generate and test this antibody. If the new antibody is both safe and effective at treating immune thrombocytopenia, it could someday be an extremely valuable tool for the management of this disease and other autoimmune diseases that are currently treated with plasma-derived IVIg.

Dr. William Sheffield - Coagulation factor II (FII) to reduce bleeding in the mouse model

Dr. Sheffield is a senior scientist and the associate director of research at Canadian Blood Services. His research focuses on plasma, plasma proteins, and coagulation. Plasma is the protein-rich liquid in blood that helps blood components circulate throughout the body.

Plasma and plasma proteins can be isolated from blood donations by removing red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Because plasma transfusions became routine long before randomized control trials became the “gold standard”, surprisingly little is understood about how these transfusions work to benefit patients. Researchers like Dr. Sheffield are investigating which of the proteins and nutrients contained in plasma improve patient health.

 

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Dr. Sheffield’s research group has identified one plasma protein of particular interest, coagulation factor II. With his IRG funding, Dr. Sheffield will test whether treating mice with this protein can reduce their bleeding, and whether this protein is required for the beneficial effects of plasma transfusion. He will also begin to translate these findings into potential human benefit by investigating the function of coagulation factor II in human blood samples.

A clear understanding of how plasma transfusions work is important for developing evidence-based transfusion practices that prioritize patient health and safety while making the most effective use of donated plasma.

In collaboration with Dr. Heyu Ni 

Drs. Lazarus and Sheffield are connected by more than just their interest in blood research. Dr. Heyu Ni is another Canadian Blood Services scientist who is collaborating on both of these IRG-funded projects. Dr. Ni is an expert on blood clotting and immune-related blood disorders, and has developed a mouse model for immune thrombocytopenia.

“Knowledge exchange is a critical element of the scientific research process. The IRG program aims to promote collaboration between researchers, whether internal or external to Canadian Blood Services,” says Dr. Mia Golder, the research and training programs manager for the Centre for Innovation at Canadian Blood Services.

Canadian Blood Services Centre for Innovation receives financial support from the federal government (Health Canada) and provincial and territorial ministries of health.

Find out more about the other research Canadian Blood Services Centre for Innovation supports by reading our latest Progress Report.

Keep an eye on RED – our research, education and discovery blog – for more on these projects and others coming soon.


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.

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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