UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 1 | Jan.
Keeping Canadian Blood Lines Safe
UBCs 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
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
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 Canadas 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 centres 27 principal investigators are now scattered
across campus and the UBC teaching hospitals. When UBCs
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
CBSs 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 Canadas capacity for blood research, says
We need to catalyze the training of the next generation
of blood scientists, he says.
Another strategy to strengthen Canadas 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
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.