Centre for Blood Research PhD Candidate earns Killam Award for his work engineering platelets for improved bleeding control

Tuesday, November 14, 2023 Colton Strong

Our partnership with the Centre for Blood Research (CBR) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is helping to train the next generation of researchers in transfusion science. This blog post highlights just some of the achievements in education, training or knowledge mobilization accomplished by CBR trainees.

This post was written by Colton Strong, PhD Candidate supervised by Dr. Christian Kastrup and Dr. Dana Devine at the Centre for Blood Research in Vancouver. Colton was recently the recipient of the 2023 Killam Doctoral Award given by The Killam Trusts for his research developing enhanced platelets for bleeding control. The Killam Doctoral Award is the most prestigious award available to graduate students at UBC and given with the purpose of supporting advanced education and research at Canadian universities.

Colton Strong headshot wearing a blue shirt
Colton Strong, PhD Candiate, is working to develop platelets which improve blood clotting.

Failure to control bleeding after injury, such as during trauma, childbirth and surgery, accounts for more than half of all operating room deaths and is a leading cause of death world-wide. Platelets are circulating blood cells that recognize and stick to sites of active bleeding, where they release specific substances and proteins to initiate blood clotting. The gold standard therapy for treating severe bleeds is transfusing the patient with more platelets. In most of Canada, platelets are collected from blood donors by Canadian Blood Services and are provided to hospitals and blood banks where they are used as required.

If an individual is suffering from uncontrolled bleeding, such as after a traumatic accident or during childbirth, platelet units will be retrieved from the local blood bank and transfused along with other blood products with the goal of restoring the blood that has been lost and the person’s natural ability to clot. Unfortunately, in some cases of severe bleeding, transfused platelets may not work well and may have impaired coagulability making their transfusion ineffective resulting in increased mortality. A strategy to improve platelet function to treat severe bleeds is to load platelets with more of their required clot-initiating proteins, thereby enhancing the platelets’ natural ability to generate a strong clot.

Colton Strong was awarded the 2023 Killam Award for his work on blood clotting. 

How my research is improving clotting 

My research aims to use cutting-edge technology to genetically engineer donor platelets used in the clinic such that they can stop bleeding faster and create stronger clots than standard platelets. I do this, along with my research team, by using lipid nanoparticles — a drug delivery technology that enabled the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines — to deliver the genetic blueprint (messenger RNA) for clot-initiating factors directly into donor platelets. Once loaded with the messenger RNA, platelets can then begin producing clotting factors from the blueprint which will supercharge them for potent response after transfusion at sites in the body where blood is rapidly escaping.  

Platelets used in my research are collected from donors and prepared by Canadian Blood Services’ netCAD Blood4Research facility and I am grateful to the staff and blood donors who make my research possible. Enhancing the natural properties of platelets will improve options for bleeding control after trauma, with the potential to reduce the number of hemorrhage-related deaths in Canada. I was drawn to this area of research by the opportunity to work with leaders in transfusion medicine and to develop new platelet products that could be provided by Canada’s Lifeline, thereby directly improving patient outcomes. Platelets have also been implicated in cancer and inflammatory diseases and this project will provide proof-of-concept that genetically engineered platelets can be used as a platform technology to deliver therapeutics in a multitude of disease contexts. 

Canadian Blood Services is grateful to blood donors for making this research possible. 

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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Colton Strong

Colton Strong, a PhD Candidate supervised by Dr. Christian Kastrup and Canadian Blood Services chief scientist, Dr. Dana Devine, at the Centre for Blood Research, shares his experience presenting platelet research at the International Society on Thrombosis and Hemostasis (ISTH) 2022 Congress in London, UK.