CBR Summer Students Visit NetCAD!

Sarah BowersBy Sarah Bowers, Undergraduate Student, Brown Lab

Did you know that only 4% of Canadians donate blood? With thousands of British Columbians needing blood every day, units for transfusions cannot simply be taken off the shelf for research…

On Tuesday, June 19th, 2018, the CBR Summer Students were treated to a tour of the netCAD Blood for Research facility. Located across the road from the UBC Hospital, this special donor clinic is part of the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) Centre for Innovation. The blood components donated here aren’t used for transfusions. Instead, they’re used by people within the CBS and researchers in transfusion medicine and other disciplines for the development and implementation of new products, processes, and equipment. Donors at netCAD are evaluated based on donor safety rather than recipient safety. So, if you have ever wanted to be a donor but have been deferred by a regular CBS clinic, you may be able to donate here!

Our tour was led by Janet McManus, the manager of the facility. First, we were shown the clinic where the blood draws are performed. A special element there was the apheresis machines that allow for targeted donating by taking out only what is needed from the whole blood and giving the rest back to the donor. Because of the time it takes to replace blood components like iron, Health Canada regulations (based on recommendations by the CBS) state that men can only donate every 56 days and women every 84 days for a whole blood donation. By being able to select for platelets and return RBCs along with their iron to the donor, wait times between apheresis donations can be reduced to two weeks.

CBR Summer Students 2018

CBR Summer Students 2018

Next, we headed to the production area and watched as a unit of whole blood was spun down and separated into its components. Since many of the CBR summer students are working with blood products, it was neat to see this on such a large scale. I had never seen such a thick buffy coat! Interestingly, Janet told us that the buffy coat is one of the fractions most commonly requested by researchers. After extraction, the components are stored in different ways. The RBCs head to the fridge where they can be kept for 42 days. Platelets, on the other hand, are only good for 7 days at room temperature with gentle agitation – that’s not long when it takes 4 donors to make 1 unit of platelets! Plasmas are frozen and stored at -30 degrees.

Finally, we headed to the area where the quality of the products is tested with instruments like the hematology analyzer and the blood gas analyzer. Our group was particularly interested in the work being done to look at the health of the RBCs. Factors such as their ability to change size and shape as required for getting through capillaries are being actively investigated. Janet outlined the impressive number of parameters with set standards for quality control, such as % hemolysis for RBCs, the amount of factor VIII in plasma, and the pH of platelets.

Overall, the CBR Summer Students left our tour with a much better understanding of the important work being done at the netCAD Blood for Research facility. We would like to extend a big thank-you to Janet, others at netCAD, and Julie Kora for the opportunity. To find out more about netCAD and becoming a donor, please check out https://cbr.ubc.ca/about/facilities/netcad/. Janet promises to make your time in the clinic pleasant – snacks included!

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