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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 1 | Jan. 2, 2003

Keeping Canadian Blood Lines Safe

UBC’s Blood Research Centre is the first of its kind.

By Hilary Thomson

A group of UBC researchers is working to ensure that Canada will never again face the tragedy of a national tainted blood scandal.

Ross MacGillivray, director of the new Centre for Blood Research (CBR), is creating an interdisciplinary team of researchers who will improve methods of storing and using donated blood, identify new therapeutic agents in blood and create artificial blood components.

The new centre -- supported by a $15.1 million Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grant -- is unique in the world because it brings together not only clinical and basic scientists but also ethicists, engineers and sociologists to form a nucleus of discovery, says MacGillivray, a professor of biochemistry.

The CBR was created in response to research funding opportunities and recommendations contained in the report of the Krever commission that investigated Canada’s tainted blood scandal of the ‘70s and ‘80s where patients received donated blood contaminated with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

According to the Canadian Blood Service (CBS), the number of regular blood donors must increase by about 40 per cent by December 2005 to meet needs created by accidents, surgery, cancer treatments, hemophilia and other blood-related diseases.

“One CBR short-term goal is to improve storage time and quality of donated blood. Our long-term goal is to create artificial products that decrease our reliance on donations,” says MacGillivray. “With a researcher-driven agenda, we should make significant progress.”

The centre’s 27 principal investigators are now scattered across campus and the UBC teaching hospitals. When UBC’s new Life Sciences Centre opens its research wings in spring 2005, about 120 CBR researchers, grad students, post-docs and staff will be housed there.

Investigations include analyzing the complex protein mixture in blood to find new therapeutic proteins.

Researchers will also look at ways to increase the shelf life of platelets that are used to prevent bleeding. Currently, platelets can be stored for up to five days only. By extending the ‘best before’ date by even a day or two, the supply of platelets worldwide would be significantly increased.

MacGillivray estimates that CBR scientists will be able to extend the lifespan of stored platelets within five years and find new therapeutic proteins in blood within 10 years.

Another research area focuses on creating artificial blood components such as platelets or albumin -- a protein that is widely used to treat surgical and burn patients. Although CBS’s goal is to have a donor-free society by 2025, MacGillivray says the synthetic products will likely serve as supplements to donated blood.

Recruiting CBR members will be a key activity for the next two years. In addition to Canadian scientists, experts may be drawn from the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands -- countries that are leaders in blood research. Also, providing training opportunities at the centre is critical to improve Canada’s capacity for blood research, says MacGillivray.

“We need to catalyze the training of the next generation of blood scientists,” he says.

Another strategy to strengthen Canada’s ability to respond to blood crises is the establishment of other centres across Canada, modeled on the CBR and focusing on different aspects of blood research, says Dana Devine, a CBR member and Director, Research and Development for CBS.

“If another issue arose like tainted blood, we would be able to respond immediately and effectively in a co-ordinated way,” says Devine, who is a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Support for the CBR comes from CFI, the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund, CBS, Bayer Inc. and UBC.

For more information on the centre, visit www.cbr.ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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