Highlights from the conference circuit 2016 - Part 1

Friday, May 27, 2016 Dr. Geraldine Walsh

The 2016 Canadian Society for Transfusion Medicine conference took place in Vancouver, BC from May 11-16. This annual conference brings together members from CSTM, Canadian Blood Services as well as Héma-Québec.  

An opening to remember

Attending the 2016 Canadian Society for Transfusion Medicine conference in Vancouver was a fantastic experience. For me, a highlight was the opening plenary session, moderated by outgoing CSTM president and Canadian Blood Services’ medical director Dr. Gwen Clarke.

In a moving and inspirational talk, family physician Dr. Steve Larigakis shared his experiences as a patient battling an aggressive form of cancer. In need of a life-saving stem cell transplant, ultimately a matching bone marrow donor was found in the small town of Kingsley, Michigan – a young woman call Katie Karker. Katie’s cells were harvested and sent north of the border. The impact was profound; Dr. Larigakis’ life was saved, and his bond with his donor will remain for life. Dr. Larigakis now shares Katie’s blood type.


Dr. Steve Larigakas and Katie Karker

Dr. Larigakis asked his stem cell donor  Katie Karker to join him for his presentation to the Canadian Society for Transfusion Medicine conference in Vancouver on Friday.


Dr. Larigakis expressed his gratitude in person as Katie and some of her family were in Vancouver and came up on stage at the end of the presentation. She received a standing ovation from the crowd and there were very few dry eyes in the audience. (I was lucky to be sitting behind someone who was handing out tissues!)

Dr. Jean Wang followed with an entertaining social history of transfusion medicine, illustrated by postcards, postage stamps and other collectibles and memorabilia. Looking back over the path of progress, in particular the long and confusing path to adoption of common nomenclature for blood groups, Dr. Wang’s talk illustrated that the pace of change in transfusion medicine can be torturously slow, but that in the end improvements do happen and good sense prevails.

Dr. Wang’s historical perspective set the scene nicely for Canadian Blood Services' CEO, Dr. Graham Sher’s presentation, New ways, new opportunities: The future of the blood industry in Canada. Dr. Sher discussed the opportunities and challenges facing the industry. 


Dr. Graham Sher - Tweet from CSTM 2016

Blood operators are in a state of aggressive transformation, driven by economic and other factors. Dr. Sher touched upon the many aspects of change facing the blood industry and the impact of new technologies. Big data, regenerative medicine, personalized medicine, changing demographics, using drones to deliver inventory (e.g. in Rwanda); change is here! The fundamentals of the traditional industry that was described in Dr. Wang’s talk are shifting and traditional paradigms don’t work with the current speed and complexity of change. Blood operators need to adopt and adapt to technology in challenging fiscal, political and demographic environments, move from volume to value and learn new ways to conduct business. It was a fascinating look at the future, which is many ways is already upon us.

Dr. Yulia Lin from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, ON, received this year’s Ortho Award, which is presented to a Canadian Society for Transfusion Medicine member who has provided a major service or innovation in transfusion medicine. Dr. Lin’s acceptance talk, "A quest for quality in transfusion medicine practice", was inspiring. In it Dr. Lin described her quest to improve transfusion medicine education, and her efforts to get all who interact with transfusion in their clinical practice to an expert level, for example through initiatives such as the Transfusion Medicine Bootcamp. In the quest for quality, Dr. Lin highlighted the importance of incremental improvements, which can really have an impact, and the fact that quality is a team sport. Dr. Lin truly demonstrated her commitment to relentless improvements in delivering high quality transfusion care, and delivered an emotional thank you to both her work family and her family family for their support.

Other highlights

Other highlights included Friday evening’s poster session. This was a great networking opportunity - so many interesting people to meet and posters to view that there was not enough time to get to them all!


Dr. Fearon shows her poster to Dr. Semple

Dr. Margaret Fearon presents her poster "Zika Virus: Risk Assessment and Rapid Response to an Emerging Threat" to Dr. John Semple during the Friday evening poster session at the Canadian Society for Transfusion Medicine conference. 

And leaving the best ‘til last, Sunday’s plenary sessions with a focus on research were another personal highlight. ‘Advances in plasma-based therapies’ had four excellent talks, including from Canadian Blood Services’ scientists Dr. Don Branch and Dr. Alan Lazarus, illustrating that there are IVIG replacements on the horizon that show some potential, although cost-benefit of any replacements will need to be proven. Canadian Blood Services' associate director, research, Dr. William Sheffield, then chaired and spoke at the "Updates on Research at Héma-Québec and Canadian Blood Services" session. In the final plenary session moderated by Dr. John Freedman we learned about plasma transfusion in trauma, the strengths and weaknesses of animal models for learning about red blood cell biology and a history of immune thrombocytopenia.


Canadian Blood Services' Medical Consultant, Dr. Michelle Zeller (below, left), won this year’s Top Clinical Abstract Award at for her work to understand intravenous iron ordering practices for inpatients and outpatients at a large academic institution. Dr. David Donkor (below, right), a Canadian Blood Services' funded postdoctoral fellow in Dr. William Sheffield’s laboratory won this year’s Top Scientific Abstract Award for his work on the selection and characterization of a DNA aptamer that inhibits a coagulation factor may have a role as an anti-thrombotic.


Dr. David Donker
Dr. Michelle Zeller


The 2016 Canadian Society for Transfusion Medicine conference was an excellent networking and knowledge exchange opportunity. Themes that emerged for me throughout the meeting included the use of "big data" and integrated data and how these powerful approaches are changing the way we view problems and answer questions; also the ever-present need to be vigilant against infectious threats to the blood supply, and how modern technologies such as pathogen inactivation and molecular epidemiology and whole genome sequencing are providing creative solutions to these issues. Transfusion medicine is adopting modern approaches to solve some long-standing challenges and the changes are just beginning. The future is here and now!


About the author

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.


The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services.


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