From the CBR Director’s Chair: Reflecting on 2015 – a Foundation for 2016!

Ed Conway

Dr. Ed Conway, CBR Director

By Dr. Ed Conway, CBR Director

I would like to wish everyone at the CBR, our partners, sponsors, collaborators, colleagues and friends a happy and healthy New Year. As we rapidly gear up for 2016, it’s worth reflecting on some of our accomplishments in 2015, which, from several vantage points, proved to be an exciting and a highly productive year.

Research emanating from the CBR continues to yield major breakthroughs in research into blood and blood-related products, many of which are poised for further development and application to meet clinical needs. To name but a few examples of advances made by CBR investigators in the last year:

Transfusion medicine:

  • Identification of blood bag plasticizers that minimize adverse effects on stored blood products read more>;
  • Delineation of mechanisms by which Dengue virus infects red blood cells and platelets read more>;
  • Engineering of cell-surfaces using polymers to reduce inflammation;
  • Modification of polymers to reduce immunogenicity of transfused blood products;
  • Development of ultra-sensitive methods to diagnose leukemia.


  • Development of self-propelling microparticles that can stop bleeding read more>;
  • Introduction of personalized medicine approaches to prevent bleeding in patients with hemophilia;
  • Establishment of a Canadian network to study and improve outcomes from venous thromboembolic disease read more>;
  • Initiation of studies to prevent thrombosis in patients with cancer.


  • Improved understanding of mechanisms by which collagen degrades during aging read more>;
  • Characterization of the proteome in dental pulp to provide insights into inflammatory gum disease read more>;
  • Discovery of how the protein MALT1 controls the immune response and inflammation read more>;
  • Description of the crystal structure of a sialyltransferase that participates in cellular functions relevant to cancer, inflammation and nerve regeneration read more>;
  • Development of approaches to increase safety and efficacy of HIV therapy during pregnancy.

Many of these discoveries have led to CBR investigators, Research Associates, PDFs, PhD students, MSc students, and undergrads receiving numerous prestigious awards and grants in 2015. Congratulations to all!

2015 also saw the CBR Summer Studentship program, with sponsorships from industry and private individuals, supporting a record number of 21 students. Students pursued their “hands-on” research projects, and participated in a variety of enrichment activities: from touring UBC facilities to discussing career options with our faculty and senior researchers.

CBR’s annual Research Day further showcased the stellar CBR student performances with their outstanding oral and poster presentations. It also featured the first presentation of the Neil Mackenzie Mentorship Award that recognizes the mentors among us at the CBR. Nominated by his peers, the 2015 Award was presented to Steven Hur for his outstanding commitment to the mentorship of others and deep involvement in the effective running of his supervisor’s lab.

The Earl Davie and Norman Bethune Symposia each drew record numbers of attendees (>180) in 2015, comprising clinicians, students, scientists, para-medical personnel and patient groups, drawn together to share new knowledge in the fields of bleeding and clotting disorders, inflammation/infections and transfusion medicine. In addition to participation by world-class speakers, we also added patient speakers, who presented personal accounts of living with related diseases. This simple innovation clearly was a moving one, placing so much that we do, in perspective. Save the date for the next Norman Bethune Symposium on April 12, 2016!

In the past year, the CBR has also increased its commitment to support multiple grass-roots educational enhancements and opportunities for our trainees.

In January, 2015, the Knowledge Translation (KT) Committee was conceived and then led by Education Program Manager, Anna Sinova. It has rapidly grown to 30 members, representing some remarkable and otherwise hidden, writing and science communication talent from our CBR labs. Over the year, they have published weekly articles, released monthly newsletters and quarterly publications. Their reach already exceeds 1000, comprising CBR members and alumni, colleagues in the life sciences industry, patients, and private and corporate donors. The 2016 the group is looking to expand into video journalism as a means to communicate the many fascinating stories of life at the CBR. They are always looking for new members!

The Career Development Program at the CBR gained momentum helping trainees develop career skills and establish meaningful links with industry and clinical partners. We saw a host of high quality workshops in scientific writing, journalism, entrepreneurship, transitioning into industry, résumé writing, and interviewing skills. In 2015, the CBR also hosted two Career Nights featuring representatives from Vancouver’s life sciences industry, providing ample opportunity for our CBR grads and PDFs to network in a low pressure environment. Having gained wide appeal, 2016 will see more of these career networking events, with the next PDF Career Night coming up on March 2! In 2016, expect new opportunities to tour life sciences companies, to further develop your career skills and to learn about the various career options available to the CBR graduates and post-graduates.

The CBR annually funds highly competitive graduate students through the CBR Graduate Award Program, which is designed to enrich research training of students. In 2016, in addition to their regular mentorship program, journal clubs, and research presentations activities, the students are also planning their own mini-Symposium. Stay tuned for the event details in June, 2016!

In 2015, the CBR introduced the “Blood Labs” Outreach Program, designed for high school students in the Vancouver area. Two groups of CBR graduate students delivered several fun, interactive and educational classes on DNA extraction and blood clotting to enthusiastic grade 9 and grade 11 science students. This highly successful program is a win-win for all involved, and will be expanded, as the teachers and students are eager for more.

We would like to thank our many sponsors: UBC, the Faculty of Medicine, the LSI, the Naiman-Vickars Hematology Endowment Fund, and our many industry partners, for supporting our educational initiatives.

For 2016, I am confident we will see further establishment and expansion of exciting partnerships with investigators/clinicians at UBC and beyond, with a continued strong emphasis on delivering creative discoveries that are meaningful for patients and patient care.