ISBT In Focus 2021

Tuesday, August 03, 2021 Dr. Geraldine Walsh

ISBT In Focus”, which took place virtually in June 2021, offered themed sessions in two time-zones to ensure as many delegates as possible could take part, and used state-of-the-art lectures and interactive sessions. I chatted to two Canadian Blood Services delegates who attended the congress: senior scientist, Dr. Sandra Ramirez-Arcos, and postdoctoral fellow in Ramirez-Arcos’ laboratory, Dr. Sylvia Ighem Chi.

Dr. Sandra Ramirez-Arcos
Dr. Sandra Ramirez-Arcos

Sandra Ramirez-Arcos

Why do you find it important to attend the ISBT congress? 

The ISBT congress is a highlight for me every year, I always look forward to attending because of the participation of people from around the world. I am also involved with the Transfusion Transmitted Infectious Diseases Working Party (TTID WP; I am a co-chair of the TTID WP Bacteria Subgroup), and along with other colleagues, I organize satellite meetings around the ISBT Congress.  

What was your “ISBT In Focus” congress highlight? 

I can highlight two sessions. The first one was the opening session with Nobel Prize awardee Dr. Harvey Alter’s talk. It was really humbling to hear him talk about his wonderful career and contribution to transfusion medicine with the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus. He is not only an outstanding researcher and role model for all, but also a poet, which is wonderful!

The second presentation that I really enjoyed was from Col. Andrew Cap (US Army Institute of Surgical Research) on cold stored platelets. This is a topic I am working on and Andrew is a great speaker who has done pioneering research on the development of new blood components, which is also a current research focus at Canadian Blood Services. 

Can you tell me a little about the research you presented at “ISBT In Focus”? 

As part of the activities of the ISBT TTID WP, I led an interactive session on bacterial testing of platelet components. The session had two components; the other half was on viruses presented by Dr. Steven Drews, associate director, microbiology, at Canadian Blood Services. I also had two posters. One of these - on bacterial growth in cold-stored platelets - was selected as a top poster. The second poster described non-destructive testing of red blood cells – an approach we’re working on to minimize wastage during quality control testing.

What was your experience of the online format vs. an in-person event? 

I really miss the social interaction and networking of in-person events. There is also a lot of preparation needed for pre-recorded presentations and we do not receive immediate feedback from the audience. Interestingly, I got positive comments on my pre-recorded presentation on cold-stored platelets, including one from an Italian researcher who wants to participate in the study. 

Any other comments about your experience at “ISBT In Focus”? 

The congress was very well organized and speakers had several opportunities to get technical advice for presentations. The scientific content was good, and I liked that the sessions were repeated to address time differences. As a pitfall, I felt that that the congress was too long - it lasted a week.  


Dr. Sylvia Ighem Chi
Dr. Sylvia Ighem Chi

Sylvia Ighem Chi

Was this your first time attending ISBT?

It was my second time attending an ISBT event. The ISBT congress in 2020 was the first I ever joined and I truly enjoyed it. After that experience, I didn’t want to miss being part of the “ISBT In Focus” Congress. I was especially excited for several reasons: firstly, because my abstract was selected for best poster presentation and as an express talk; secondly, because it was convenient for me to go to the sessions I wanted to attend during the day, due to the congress’ schedule that covered different time zones (at the last congress, I had to wake up late in the night to attend some sessions!); and finally, because there was an opportunity to participate in the interactive young researcher sessions, which was very useful to me as a young researcher. 


What was the most exciting thing you learned at “ISBT In Focus” 2021?

  • The talks presented on “Transfusion Transmitted Infectious Diseases (TTID)were of interest to me, especially the talk about blood safety and strategies to eliminate errors in transfusion presented by Dr. Paula Bolton-Maggs (UK’s Serious Hazards of Transfusion).  
  • I was also very interested in the talks about the COVID-19 pandemic. It was great to hear the latest updates about ongoing blood research regarding the SARS-CoV-2 virus from different parts of the world. It was also interesting to learn that  blood banking, and serosurveillance studies worldwide could be used to predict future pandemics. I found the poster sessions on COVID-19 and TTID sessions very informative, and will go back to the congress website and listen to them again. 

Finally, I enjoyed the young researchers interactive session. It was fantastic to get to know other young researchers, their work, challenges and possible approaches. Most importantly, I got advice from senior scientists on future directions in my career, and how to create contacts and collaborations. 


Can you tell me a little about the research you presented? 

I presented a talk titled “Expression of superantigen toxin genes produced by Staphylococcus aureus cultured in platelet concentrates: Genomic and transcriptomic analyses.” Staphylococcusaureus (or S.aureus) is an infectious bacterium that poses a safety risk to transfusion recipients. S.aureus can contaminate platelet concentrates and can escape detection during routine screening of platelets for bacterial contamination. My research examined the expression of genes in S.aureus isolated from platelet concentrates, in particular those genes that produce bacterial exotoxins. These exotoxins play a role in causing adverse transfusion reactions in recipients who receive a contaminated platelet unit. Our findings highlight that the secretion of these exotoxins by S. aureus poses a safety risk to recipients, and show the importance of assessing the presence of  exotoxins  during investigations of transfusion reactions caused by S. aureus. 

What was your experience of the online format vs. an in-person event? 

The event organization and the transitions from one session to another were great, and the audio-visual quality of the pre-recorded talks was excellent. However, I missed the in-person contact-making part of the congress, and discussions with others during the breaks.

Any other comments about your experience at “ISBT In Focus”? 

I enjoyed the virtual conference but it would be great to meet in person next time. I would be excited to travel to other places in the world for future conferences!

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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