Chemical engineering at Bloodworks? You bet!

March 24, 2016 at 2:03 pm

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Chemical engineering isn’t just about chemicals. It can be about blood too, says Bloodworks Research Institute’s Dr. Wei Yang.

It’s related to chemical processes and reactions, but some of us are focused on material and biological applications.

Dr. Yang was exposed to the field at an early age: her parents both work for a chemical factory. She was always good at chemistry and wanted to solve medical problems, so chemical engineering was a natural fit – many chemical engineers have careers related to human health.  She earned her PhD from the University of Washington in 2014, and completed a year-long postdoc with her PhD advisor after completing her degree.

Her advisor introduced her to Dr. José López, whose thrombosis research at BloodworksNW aligns with her interests. She joined the López lab in September, 2015.

Thrombosis is unwanted blood clotting. It can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and other sometimes fatal complications. BloodworksNW is the only research institute in the Northwest dedicated to thrombosis research.

Dr. Yang’s work focuses on reducing blood clots created by medical devices. The body’s natural reactions to bleeding and foreign substances can’t distinguish intruders from devices designed to help, like artificial hearts, dialysis, or ECMO.

When proteins in the blood come in contact with these devices, these proteins unravel into long, sticky chains, cling to the devices, and cause platelets to activate and clot. Von Willebrand factor (VWF) is a particular problem – it’s the key protein involved in platelet adhesion and the biggest, stickiest protein in the body.

Patients can have strokes when these clots break off and make it to the brain, and anticoagulants given to prevent clotting cause other bleeding issues. This is especially a problem for young children on ECMO.

Scientists have attacked this problem for decades. Their solutions often work well in the lab, but not in simulations that mimic actual blood flow.

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Dr. Yang’s solution is a polymer that imitates a protein. Because this zwitterionic material binds to water very well, the water interferes with the binding of proteins to the coated surface, keeping the surface clean – even in a complex fluid like blood. When coated onto a device, the polymer prevents VWF from unraveling, attaching, and forming harmful clots.

So far, devices treated with Dr. Yang’s material have remarkable results compared to uncoated devices, in both the laboratory and in blood flow simulations.

We think that if we can reduce VWF, based on current results, it’s likely we can decrease clotting formation for the ECMO system.

Imagine the difference this life-changing medical breakthrough could make for patients in need and the doctors who treat them.

Research is connected to the gift of life, and we’re fortunate to have early-career scientists like Dr. Yang pushing innovative ideas forward.

Jaime’s story: saved by blood and cord blood donation

March 14, 2016 at 11:18 am
Jaime Scaggs, in red, poses with other members of Team Jaime.
A friend gave Jaime this monkey on the day she was diagnosed; the friend heard the news and left it at Jaime's house for her to find when she got home. This monkey has been with Jaime through every treatment and visit to the hospital, and brought great comfort to her when she was scared and the outlook was uncertain. Jaime brought her monkey to the drive to comfort her friends and former colleagues who were nervous about donating.
This special wrap was done by Juliette for our last donor of the day- the only walk-in, and unaffiliated with the group. He just happened to come across the drive while at the Columbia Center and decided to save lives.

Jaime Scaggs had just turned 39 when what she thought was a cold turned out to be Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). Jaime says,

Your life turns upside down when you hear CANCER. Everything changes for you and your family in an instant.

AML affects the body’s ability to produce red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. It progresses rapidly, and can spread to the brain and spinal cord, skin, and gums.

Over the next year I underwent three rounds of chemotherapy, total body irradiation, months in the hospital, hours and hours of blood and platelet transfusions, all leading to a lifesaving cord blood transplant.

The intense chemotherapy to treat the cancer destroyed Jaime’s bone marrow. She needed a stem cell transplant to replace her immune system but wasn’t able to find a compatible bone marrow donor. Fortunately, a new mom had made the decision to donate her baby’s umbilical cord blood to a public bank 12 years earlier, and this donation was a match for Jaime.

On March 14, 2014, Jaime received her lifesaving stem cell transplant.

The journey doesn’t end there.  This battle results in your body being unable to produce your own blood cells (red/white/platelets) while you recover, sometimes for years.

There were extended periods of time when I had daily transfusions.

Jaime received more than eight gallons of blood components over the course of her treatment.

Jaime and her family, friends, and co-workers (“Team Jaime”) have participated in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Big Climb at Columbia Tower in Seattle for the past three years. Just over a year after her cord blood transplant, Jaime completed the climb. She is one of the honorees at the 2016 event on March 20.

Team Jaime hosted a blood and bone marrow drive at Columbia Center on February 20 to raise awareness about the need for blood and bone marrow donors.

The drive registered 34 donors, with 15 first-time donors, and added eight potential bone marrow donors to the Be The Match registry.

Jaime is grateful for everyone who donated at the drive and the 64 people who saved her life during her treatment for AML.

This all would not have been possible without people just like you taking the time to make a difference by donating blood and platelets and the work of Bloodworks Northwest.

Jaime is proof blood donation saves lives! Schedule your next donation or learn more about organizing a blood drive.

A platelet disorder leads to bleeding: Jen’s story

February 23, 2016 at 1:00 pm

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Jen Schmitt is the type of person who always puts others before herself.

Her friend Erin Nissen says,

Jen is the most giving and caring person that I have ever known. If I’m having a difficult time, she’s the first friend that I call. She remembers little things. If you say there’s a type of wine you like, before you know it, she’s sent it to you in the mail. She’s so thoughtful.

The Harborview cardiac ICU nurse started having abnormal bleeding in her urinary tract at the end of November, 2015. It wasn’t profuse, but enough to be a concern.

Jen visited the doctor multiple times and had imaging performed to try to figure out where the bleeding was coming from. The week before Christmas, her doctors put her under anesthesia to investigate with an internal scope. Ironically, that’s when the real trouble started.

Jen has a rare genetic platelet disorder called Glanzmann Thrombasthenia. When she bleeds, her platelets adhere to the site of the injury, but don’t effectively clump together to stop the bleeding. Her tissues are easily irritated, so the ordinarily harmless scope used in the procedure caused an injury.

Big blood clots formed, and clung to her bladder wall. The clots would break off, causing bleeding, spasms, and excruciating pain, which then caused more bleeding, clotting, spasms, and pain – an ongoing cycle of misery.

She was admitted to UW Medical Center on Christmas Eve.

Jen’s parents and close friends have been by Jen’s side through the entire ordeal, and can’t even count the number of platelets and red blood cell transfusions she’s received – Jen gets three or four units of platelets with every infusion of NovoSeven, a drug that helps her blood clot.

Because of her bleeding disorder, Jen has needed periodic blood transfusions throughout her life, and as a result has built up antibodies: there are only eight people in Western Washington whose blood and platelets she can receive.

It’s upsetting for Erin to watch her hilarious, generous, and generally private friend accept help from others and face the unknown – no one can tell when this ordeal will stop or what the long-term effects will be.

One comfort is that the blood is there:

It makes her teary-eyed – she can’t believe complete strangers would come in and donate their time and themselves.

Jen’s coworkers have rallied, visiting her in the hospital, bringing her snacks, and sending messages of support.

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Harborview already hosts regular blood drives, and several of Jen’s colleagues have come forward to champion extra drives in February.

Many of her coworkers at Harborview are stepping up to donate blood and platelets in her honor, either at a drive or at our Central Seattle and Federal Way donor centers. Even though they may not be a match for Jen, they know that countless other patients in our region depend on their gifts of blood components.

Jen was finally able to be discharged on February 11th and is recovering with her parents in Olympia. She’s able to find the positive in the whole experience:

She’s always been an amazing nurse and amazing patient advocate – always trying to see things through the eyes of the patient. This has shed more light on how the patient has it in the hospital. It’s giving her greater passion for her profession as a nurse.

Jen’s coworkers at Harborview are hosting another drive in her honor on Thursday, February 25, 2016. Patients like Jen depend on your donations every day.

Pam’s story: surviving lymphoma with the help of donated blood

January 19, 2016 at 2:01 pm

pam-sowersWhen your doctor tells you that you need to get to the hospital in Seattle before rush hour traffic hits and to pack a suitcase, because you’re going to be there for a while, what do you grab?

I was so confused and ill that every time I kept thinking, ‘I need underwear,’ but I didn’t know what to do, so I’d get another chilled bottle of ice water.  I ended up at the hospital with lots of cold water and no underwear!

In July 2014 Pam Sowers was diagnosed at UW Medical Center with an aggressive form of lymphoma and a small brain tumor. The Olympia-area teacher had been having symptoms for two or three months before that: facial numbness, poor eyesight, and constant exhaustion.

Aggressive cancer needs aggressive treatment, and the rigorous chemotherapy Pam received at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance took a toll on her blood.

They were taking blood draws three times a week. Several times, I would finish with my blood draw and be told, ‘you have to go upstairs and have them give you some blood.’ I wouldn’t get home from an 11 a.m. appointment until 10 p.m. at night because I needed so much blood and platelets.

She received more transfusions than she could count.

I don’t know what platelet levels were when I had the various transfusions, but I do know that when I needed whole blood I would be exceptionally tired and I would not know why I was tired: I was a patient, not the doctor! I would find myself exhausted beyond the usual levels of fatigue.

Often the transfusions would be several units. After receiving the first unit, Pam would feel like she didn’t need the second, but knew it was necessary.

Pam soon realized that donated blood was playing a large part of her recovery from cancer. Frustrated that she could would never be able to donate blood because of her lymphoma, she began to encourage everyone she knows to donate.

It brought me to tears, because I thought somebody somewhere around the Seattle area cared enough to save the life of someone they didn’t even know, and they had no idea that’s what this blood was going to be doing.

Pam just celebrated one year as cancer-free and had her first appointment at the survivorship clinic on December 11, 2015. She has started receiving her first vaccines to restore the immunity that chemo wiped out, and is enjoying being back home on Puget Sound, 30 minutes outside of Olympia.

While Pam had to give up her job as a college English as a Second Language instructor, she hopes to get back into teaching again – perhaps conducting a community college course on Alice in Wonderland, a subject on which she has considerable expertise.

One thing is for sure: she’ll approach her next adventure with a new outlook.

 The things that used to scare me no longer have that effect on me. It ain’t cancer, I don’t care.

Organ transplant record means more local blood use

January 13, 2016 at 12:59 pm

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You may not know that BloodworksNW does all the infectious disease and HLA (compatibility) testing for organ donation our region!

The Pacific Northwest saw a record number of organ transplants in December. We tested for 40 donors, and with 2.5 transplants coming from each donor, this means roughly 100 transplants resulted in Seattle and Portland hospitals.

An organ transplant is a time-sensitive procedure with a narrow window of opportunity. We work with two organizations to facilitate these lifesaving operations: LifeCenter Northwest and Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank. Between these two groups, we support five states: Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana.

Donated organs come from individuals at or near end of life: people who have irreparable damage to their neurological system, on life support and without brain activity, but whose bodies are otherwise functional. Blood must flow to an organ for as long as possible to ensure that it’s viable when transplanted to a recipient.

Organs recovered for transplant are most frequently transplanted into recipients in our region. This is in part due to the national allocation system, and in part it reflects the short time that some organs recovered for transplant can survive before transplantation. In Washington, organs are transplanted  at one of four hospitals: University of Washington Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center, Seattle Childrens, or Virginia Mason Medical Center.

This means that when organ transplants happen there can be a spike in local needs for blood. Heart, lung, and liver transplants usually need a lot of blood – the average for a solid organ transplant is about 20 units.

No one can predict when a donor organ for transplant will become available. While elective surgeries tend to slow down during the holidays, organ transplants must proceed within hours of a donor organ being available. “Despite a great turnout by dedicated blood donors in December, we still faced shortages due to demand for unpredictable organ transplants that occurred, says Mark Destree, Director of Transfusion Medicine and Donor Testing Laboratories,

We were expecting to be slow and it wasn’t.

In January we’re still seeing higher than usual number of transplants, several with a higher-than-average usage of blood. For example, five donors were identified on January 6 and 7, 2016 – this is one third of the expected total over a normal month in just two days.

“As it can happen, we all need to be ready,” says Dr. Karen Nelson, co-director of BloodworksNW’s HLA lab.

It’s critical that we anticipate any changes to the demand on our local blood supply. The key to this is a stable inventory, which is where donors like you come in!

Often patients have been waiting years for their chance at a transplant. To cancel their transplants because of blood shortages would be unconscionable.

Make your next appointment at schedule.bloodworksnw.org

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