Dr. Eloise Giblett paved the way at Bloodworks Northwest

March 15, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Dr. Eloise GiblettFormer Bloodworks Northwest director Dr. Eloise Giblett made groundbreaking discoveries in immunology, paved the way for leukemia treatment, and raised standards of safety and equity in blood donation—at a time when women were few and far between in her field.

Dr. Eloise Giblett was a legend in hematology. Her research made blood transfusions safer, more effective, and more equitable—and led to the discovery of treatments still used today.

Before she became the first female executive director of Bloodworks Northwest, then Puget Sound Blood Center, Eloise had a long career both at the blood bank and in research at the University of Washington. But first, as a young girl in Tacoma, Washington, she studied the violin, a passion she’d maintain throughout her life.

She began her lifelong love of science in college. Initially majoring in English at Mills College, she changed majors to chemistry and eventually transferred to study Bacteriology, now known as Microbiology, at the University of Washington.

It’s around this time she gained her nickname, Elo, which would affectionately follow her for the rest of her life—and mark her work permanently. The ELO antigen, a red blood cell antigen, is named for her.

While still in her early twenties, Elo made her first major discovery: While working in the clinical laboratory of the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, she found that it was possible to diagnose meningococcemia on a stained blood smear.

Upon receiving her Masters in Microbiology from UW in 1951, Elo was one of just five women in her 52-person graduating class. Her career at Bloodworks started soon after.

Elo was hired in 1954 at what was then the King County Central Blood Bank, and went to London to train in serology and blood typing in the Medical Research Council’s Blood Transfusion Unit.

Even as her career at blood bank picked up, Elo remained a skilled medical researcher. Between 1955 and 1967, Elo advanced in rank at the UW Medical School from Clinical Associate to Clinical Professor of Medicine, and In 1967 she was named a Research Professor of Medicine at UW, a position she held for two decades, concurrent with her blood bank work.

During this time, Elo made incredible scientific breakthroughs that would make blood transfusions safer and more reliable, and dramatically improve patient outcomes and quality of life.

Elo, paving the way for many scientific breakthroughs to follow, discovered the first recognized immunodeficiency disease: ADA deficiency. Elo also figured out the root cause of another condition, purine nucleoside phosphorylase deficiency.

Her research on transplantation immunity showed bone marrow transplantation could be used to to treat leukemia, saving many lives.

Her focus on the genetic markers found on red blood cells, other blood cells, and in plasma led to her identification of several blood group antigens, as well as her book, Genetic Markers in Human Blood, met with universal praise.

Her work with genetic markers had civil rights implications as well: Dr. Giblett provided scientific evidence to refute the (then common) practice of segregating collected units of blood on the basis of the race of the donor.

A woman writes in a large book, with a man in glasses and a bow tie standing to her right.

Elo is admitted into the National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Giblett closed her lab to serve as Acting Director and then as Executive Director of the Blood Bank in 1980, the same year she was elected into the National Academy of Sciences. At the time, the Academy’s 2,000 members only included a few women.

This era proved to be one of the most challenging times for blood centers as the AIDS epidemic gripped the world in panic. Dr. Giblett defined policy on how to screen donors before HIV. was identified or research showed it could be spread by blood transfusion; the precedent she set ensured that the blood supply is safe today.

“Dr. Giblett was an incredible human being, a stellar scientist, and a visionary leader who artfully guided [Bloodworks Northwest] through one of its most trying periods,” wrote Bloodworks Northwest Research Institute’s Dr. José López for the American Society of Hematology.

Elo retired in 1987, keeping busy with medical matters and her first love, the violin, until her death in 2009 at 88.

Elo Giblett’s legacy lives on. Members of The Elo Giblett Society support the work of emerging scientists at Bloodworks Northwest enabling them to make important discoveries that may save lives all around the world. To learn more about this giving club, contact (206) 568-3614.

Dr. Elo Giblett’s Legacy

March 13, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Dr. Giblett was an incredible human being, a stellar scientist, and a visionary leader who artfully guided [Bloodworks Northwest] through one of its most trying periods.

-Dr. Jose Lopez

eloMany of the aspects of blood donation and transfusion that we take for granted today would not be possible without the pioneering work of Dr. Eloise “Elo” Giblett.

Born in Tacoma in 1921, young Elo excelled at the violin.  She didn’t take an active interest in science until college, first studying English at Mills College before transferring to the University of Washington to receive a BS in Bacteriology (now known as microbiology) in 1942.

With World War II in full swing, she joined the Navy WAVES as a medical technician. Her degree landed her a position in the clinical laboratory of the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, and it was here that she was published in her first scientific publication after she found that it was possible to diagnose meningococcemia on a stained blood smear.

Elo went on to earn her M.S. in Microbiology and graduated with honors as just one of five women in a class of 52 in the second class of the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1951. She began a residency in internal medicine, but the chief of UW’s Hematology Division encouraged her to apply for a public health fellowship in hematology.

Around this time, Dr. Richard Czajkowski, director of King County Central Blood Bank (now Bloodworks Northwest) wanted someone at the Blood Bank trained in serology and genetics, and decided Dr. Giblett was the perfect candidate. After hiring her in 1954, he sent her to London to train in serology and blood typing in the Medical Research Council’s Blood Transfusion Research Unit.

Between 1955 and 1967, Dr. Giblett advanced in rank at the UW Medical School from Clinical Associate to Clinical Professor of Medicine, also serving as Associate Director and Head of Immunogenetics at King County Central Blood Bank. In 1967 she was named a Research Professor of Medicine at UW, a position she held for two decades concurrent with her work at King County Central Blood Bank.

Bloodworks Northwest’s Chief Research Officer Dr. Jose Lopez wrote of her,

The scientific rigor with which she addressed clinical problems was extremely impressive.

The research she did in this period helped make blood transfusions safer and more effective. Her focus on the genetic markers found on red blood cells, other blood cells, and in plasma led to her identification of several blood group antigens, as well as her book, Genetic Markers in Human Blood, met with universal praise. The ELO antigen is named after her.

Her work with genetic markers had civil rights implications as well: Dr. Giblett provided scientific evidence to refute the (then common) practice of segregating collected units of blood on the basis of the race of the donor.

It also led to better understanding of the immune system. Dr. Giblett discovered the first known immunodeficiency disease, called adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency, in 1972. Her research on transplantation immunity showed bone marrow transplantation could be used to to treat leukemia, saving many lives.

Dr. Czajkowski retired in 1979, and Dr. Giblett closed her lab to take his position as Acting Director and then as Executive Director of the Blood Bank in 1980, the same year she was elected into the National Academy of Sciences.

This era proved to be one of the most challenging times for blood centers as the AIDS epidemic gripped the world in panic. Dr. Giblett defined policy on how to screen donors before H.I.V. was identified or research showed it could be spread by blood transfusion; the precedent she set ensured that the blood supply is safe today.

Dr. Giblett retired in 1987, keeping busy with medical matters and her first love, the violin, until her death in 2004 at 88.

Elo Giblett’s legacy lives on. As a tribute to Elo, Bloodworks Northwest set up the Elo Giblett Society to support early stage investigators; supporters make a gift every year to support up-and-coming researchers who might not otherwise get the funding they need to do critical work.

To learn more about the Elo Giblett Society, contact Cheryl Angle at CherylA@BloodworksNW.org or (206) 568-3611.

13 presidential facts about blood

February 16, 2015 at 1:55 pm

13-facts

  1. The presidential state car is equipped with a supply of the president’s blood type; it’s currently rumored to transport AB negative blood.
  2. President Nixon designated January as National Blood Donor Month in 1969.
  3. Jimmy Carter has donated gallons of blood in his lifetime — he even donated while serving in the White House. Carter has A negative blood.
  4. Former presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan had O positive blood.
  5. An “atomic radiation-resistant” plastic tag presented to Harry S Truman in 1950 identified him as type O, but did not specify positive or negative. 
  6. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has type A blood, which he disclosed in his memoir about his heart transplant.
  7. Reagan received packed red blood cells, plasma, and platelets after losing 40% of his blood volume in the 1981 attempt on his life.
  8. In 2012, an anonymous seller tried to auction off a vial containing Reagan’s blood. The auction was cancelled.
  9. Gerald Ford’s golf skills were so bad that Bob Hope quipped, “I’m comfortable playing with him as long as my caddie and I have the same blood type.”
  10. In a 1953 speech, President Eisenhower recognized the role of donated blood in saving lives during World War II and called on Americans to donate blood to help children “avoid the horrible paralysis caused by polio.”
  11. In 1994, a blood specialist in the White House medical unit preparing for a foreign trip gave host hospitals the wrong blood type for Bill Clinton — the doctor was fired for this.
  12. DNA testing of samples taken from the bloodstained pillowcase Abraham Lincoln’s head rested on after being shot in 1865 show that he may have had a genetic disease that would have likely killed him in the next few years had he not been assassinated.
  13. Bloodletting was a common treatment for diseases through the 18th century. George Washington died after asking doctor’s to bleed him to treat a throat illness; though they removed five pints of blood in one day and he died soon after, modern doctors don’t think the bloodletting itself killed him

Charles Drew, the “father of blood banking”

February 11, 2014 at 10:50 am

charles_drewIt’s hard to imagine where we would be without the contributions of Dr. Charles Drew, the “father of blood banking.”

The eldest son of a carpet layer and a teacher, Drew grew up in Washington D.C. His athletic talents led him to a scholarship at Amherst College, where he graduated in 1926. Drew dreamed of becoming a doctor and worked as a coach and biology instructor at Morgan University in Baltimore to raise money for medical school after finishing college.

Drew faced a problem though: only two medical schools in the US accepted African American students at that time. Howard University rejected him, and Harvard wanted him to wait another year, so he looked to our neighbors up North, graduating second in his class from Montreal’s McGill University in 1933 with a MD and Master of Surgery.

Drew stayed in Canada for his internship and residency at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General Hospital, examining issues related to blood transfusions. He returned to the US in 1935 as an instructor at Howard University’s medical school before receiving a Rockefeller scholarship at Columbia in 1938.

It was during his time at Columbia that Drew developed a way to preserve blood plasma by drying it, allowing it to be stored (“banked”) for longer periods of time. This became the basis of his doctorate thesis, “Banked Blood.”

battlefield-plasma

Image from PhotosNormandie via Creative Commons

Drew’s expertise was put to use in 1940 as World War II tore apart Europe. In combat situations, plasma is used to treat shock and replace lost fluids, and Drew’s doctoral thesis made him the perfect leader of Blood for Britain, a relief effort to collect plasma in the US and ship it to Britain. This model not only provided immediate relief to the UK, but served as research for what might be necessary if the US entered the war. It also introduced mobile blood collections, “bloodmobiles”

However, Drew became discouraged with the racism he saw in these war efforts. At first, the military excluded African American donors, meaning that Drew himself couldn’t donate. In 1942, it was decided that African Americans could donate, but their blood would be segregated. Some say this may have led him to quit his position in 1941, returning to Howard University. The same year, he became the first black surgeon picked to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery.

Drew spent the remainder of his career training and mentoring African American surgeons, petitioning medical organizations for equal admission regardless of race, and speaking out against the Red Cross’ discriminatory donation practices.

He died in a car accident on the way to a free clinic in Tuskegee 1950.

Our friends at OneBlood have put together a great video with more on Drew’s contributions to the field of blood banking:

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