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More than just collecting blood

As a partner in health care, Canadian Blood Services provides national leadership on research and development and shares its best practices for transfusion medicine, product storage and use.

As the operator of Canada’s blood system, Canadian Blood Services is responsible for the collection, testing, manufacturing, procurement and distribution of safe blood and blood products for patient care based on the needs of hospitals and treatment centres in Canada.  But did you know we play an integral role in facilitating research and development for an increasingly complex future in transfusion and transplantation and in health care generally? 

Twelve Canadian Blood Services researchers and their laboratories form the core of our national Centre for Innovation. This core group is complemented by our physicians, our epidemiologists and adjunct scientists, various operational experts, and national and international project collaborators.

We create knowledge!

Our academic research program focuses on transfusion and, to a smaller extent, stem cell transplantation and organs and tissues transplantation. While always responsive to emerging research needs, the Centre for Innovation is currently pursuing four priorities:

  • Therapeutic Immunoglobulins: These replacement products are urgently needed because of the difficulty of meeting Canadian demand which typically rises 7 per cent to 10 per cent per year.
  • Pathogen Reduction/Inactivation: New technologies that treat blood components for the purpose of eliminating infectious agents have the potential to increase blood safety and reduce the cost of the blood system.
  • Product Quality: Optimizing product quality is essential to any blood operator to ensure patient and donor safety.
  • Improved Cellular Products: This relates not only to modified red cells and platelets, but also to stem cell products and established and emerging cellular therapies.

Our Intramural Research Program is the key mechanism by which the Centre for Innovation funds collaborative, multi-year research projects to address these four research priorities. Five teams currently receive funding via this program. Over the coming years, additional teams will be funded via the competitive process already in place.

Working in partnership

Our research partnerships are a way by which the academic community can respond to unforeseen needs and challenges faced by Canadian Blood Services. It is also a way to build collaboration to leverage funds and expertise from outside Canadian Blood Services.

For example, with an ongoing partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health, the program is currently co-funding one project addressing transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI), one project addressing blood supply risk, and eight projects addressing blood utilization and conservation. The partnership has been successful in expanding Canadian Blood Services’ research network and addressing strategic areas.

Another collaborative example is the recent partnership struck with CIHR to support the Canadian National Transplant Research Program. This new national initiative is designed to increase organ and tissue donation in Canada and enhance the survival and quality of life of Canadians who receive transplants.

Education and training – we like to share

Training the next generation of transfusion and transplantation researchers is the idea behind Canadian Blood Services’ graduate and post-doctoral fellowships program. On a competitive basis, the program provides a two-to-four year bursary for trainees to complete their theses or postdoctoral studies. Currently, 15 graduates and six postdoctoral fellows are supported by the program to work on transfusion science projects.

We also run an annual summer internship program for up to 10 undergraduates to acquire experience in transfusion science. Finally, again in partnership with CIHR, we ran a New Investigator Award program to attract young researchers to the field of transfusion science. In 2012/2013, three ongoing awards were supported. These training programs will be continued and integrated into the larger education mandate of the Centre for Innovation.

The academic research program is supplemented by netCAD, an applied research development program that benefits from a dedicated laboratory in Vancouver and expertise from Canadian Blood Services researchers at three other locations (Edmonton, Ottawa and Halifax). This program offers a framework to address operational needs and provides solutions to operational challenges and develops and improves new processes or products. In addition, netCAD provides services to commercial partners to accelerate the development of valuable technology for the benefit of patients.

Finally, the centre’s Quality Monitoring Program provides an invaluable source of technical product knowledge regarding specifications, efficacy and manufacturing troubleshooting.  It is the driver for the development of improved product standards in the future.

We’re getting noticed

The achievements of the Centre for Innovation in 2012/2013 have been significant. Program members have had more than 110 peer-reviewed articles published in prestigious journals such as Blood, Transfusion and Vox Sanguinis.

Furthermore, improved processes have been implemented based on program research results, leading to several change submissions to Health Canada. As well, the research results have contributed to the continued effort made by the Centre to develop a portfolio of valuable intellectual property (IP) focused on biopharmaceuticals and medical devices. The effective translation of Canadian Blood Services’ IP portfolio into new products has the potential to have a positive impact on health care delivery.

The Centre for Innovation also fosters knowledge creation by providing biological products and services to the research community at large. netCAD collects and supplies human blood for research purposes to Canadian researchers on a cost-recovery basis.

In 2012/2013, netCAD provided 2,225 blood products to 29 biomedical research groups and internal Canadian Blood Services development projects leading to advances in the area of immunohematology, blood borne infections, disease pathogenesis, blood cell proteomics, blood preservation, blood quality characterization and equipment and process changes in our operations. In a similar way, the group is working to facilitate the distribution of umbilical cord blood to the research community, once the National Public Cord Blood Bank becomes operational.

Knowledge mobilization

Another focus of the centre is the development of clinical guidelines and leading practices. In the last year, the International Collaborative for Transfusion Medicine Guideline, which is led by a member of our Centre for Innovation, completed two systematic reviews that are now informing an evidence-based transfusion medicine guideline regarding platelet transfusion.

Another example of this work flows from a Consensus Conference held in October 2010, which launched  a Canadian Blood Services-led international effort to create a risk-based decision making framework for blood safety.

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