Highly ranked transfusion-related research projects get greenlight

Thursday, May 25, 2017 Jenny Ryan

Canadian Blood Services to fund three highly ranked relevant meritorious applications from the CIHR Project Grant applications submitted Fall 2016.

You may know that the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) just announced the results of its fall 2016 funded projects. This is, of course, a highly competitive process that can only provide funds for so many grants, only 475 in fact, out of 2884 submitted.   

Read: The Ottawa Hospital announces new CIHR research grant recipients

What you may not know is that three highly ranked projects – specifically related to Canadian Blood Services research focus areas – will receive awards directly from Canadian Blood Services. We collaborated with CIHR to identify relevant applications aligned with our research goals and that will improve outcomes for patients. These are important transfusion medicine-related projects that would not otherwise have been funded.

Of the three projects, among the top 25 per cent of applications reviewed by CIHR, two are led by Dr. Heyu Ni, a Centre for Innovation scientist whose lab is located at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

These two projects will continue Dr. Ni’s important work investigating treatment options for bleeding disorders such as fetal and neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia (FNAIT) and in developing safer drugs for heart attack and stroke patients.


Heyu Ni, Miguel Neves and Peter Schubert at Canadian Blood Services Research Day 2017
Project title: Fetal and neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia: Novel mechanisms and therapeutic approaches

Principal investigator: Dr. Heyu Ni

FNAIT is a life-threatening bleeding disorder that affects about 1 in 1000 live births. The major risk associated with FNAIT is severe bleeding, particularly in the brain (intracranial hemorrhage). This occurs in about 10 to 20 per cent of FNAIT cases and can lead to brain damage, death, and loss of the fetus. In this project, Dr. Ni will use FNAIT mouse models developed in his lab to further study how mothers generate antibodies that attack and destroy fetal platelets. He will gather evidence and information to develop better prevention and treatment options for this condition.

Read: Platelets vs. blood vessels: what causes bleeding in fetuses and newborns with FNAIT?


Project title: Novel Mechanisms of Platelet Aggregation: Roles of non-classical beta3 integrin ligands and fibronectin in thrombosis and hemostasis

Principal investigator: Dr. Heyu Ni

Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of hemostasis (bleeding) and thrombotic (clotting) diseases could lead to the development of new therapies as well as diagnostic tools to control bleeding disorders and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Ni’s team is identifying molecules using several state-of-the-art techniques such as proteomics and confocal intravital microscopy, with which they can see in real-time the flow of blood and cells through vessels in live animals. Greater understanding of the fundamental science of platelet aggregation will help in the development of new antithrombotic therapies for heart attack and stroke patients, and could also provide new insights into how best to store platelets prior to transfusion.

Read: Developing safer drugs for heart attack and stroke patients


The third highly ranked research project that also gets the greenlight is Dr. Laura Sly's. She's an investigator at BC Children's Hospital and an associate professor at the University of British Columbia. 

Project title: Expanding treatment options for inflammatory bowel disease: a novel mechanism of antibody-based immunotherapy

Principal Investigator: Laura Sly

Intravenous immune globulin (IVIg) is a plasma-derived protein product used to treat many autoimmune disorders. However, how it works is not well understood. Though IVIg is used to treat a variety of immune-mediated diseases, it is not currently used to treat Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). This project aims to develop tools that we can use to predict whether an individual will respond to IVIg and antibody-based biological therapy.

Dr. Sly’s laboratory has found that IVIg can block intestinal inflammation in mouse models, and they have identified the mechanisms responsible for its anti-inflammatory activity. This project aims to  translate these findings to humans by examining the impact of IVIg on the human immune system in "humanized mice" (mice with human immune cells) and in people receiving IVIg therapy. They will also examine genetic factors linked to treatment failure that we can use to predict whether IVIg, and biological therapies currently used to treat IBD, will be effective.  This is a critical step toward developing "personalized medicine" for patients with IBD, that is, using the right drug for the right person. IVIg is not currently used to treat IBD but it is used to treat people with other immune diseases. The research proposed here could be rapidly translated into effective new therapies for people with IBD.

Congratulations to Drs. Ni and Sly. Through research projects like these, Canadian Blood Services can help improve the health of Canadians through the best use of blood and blood products. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with CIHR to support the funding of worthy research grants related to transfusion science and medicine.


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.

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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