Dr. Sherrill Slichter reflects on 45 years of research at BloodworksNW

March 31, 2015 at 2:45 pm

SlichterMany advancements in platelet transfusion would not be possible without Dr. Sherrill Slichter’s 45 years of research at Bloodworks Northwest.

Growing up in Wenatchee, WA, Dr. Slichter had an interest in science in a time where attitudes towards women’s abilities were much different than they are today.

When I was in high school, I took math and physics and chemistry, and our class advisor was the biology teacher in high school and she was sure I was going to flunk out, so I had to take my class card home every semester and have my parents sign it.

She majored in math at Washington State University, but soon realized it wasn’t for her. As a second semester junior, she started taking pre-med classes, and went to medical school as one of five women in a class of 100.

On the first day of medical school, I was sitting at the lunch counter in a pharmacy across the street from the medical school when one of my fellow classmates, who I didn’t know because it was the first day, looked over to me and said, ‘do you understand that you’re taking the place of somebody who could use this education? Raise a family.’

I guess I survived by saying to myself, ‘I can do what you can do, regardless of my gender.’

Dr. Slichter initially wanted to focus on patient care instead of research, but an experience with a woman with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a disease of the red blood cells that causes kidney failure, made her change her mind. The patient, the wife of an army private, was dying of renal failure, but there was only one dialysis machine at the University of Washington hospital and it was in use. The physician in charge refused to treat her because of what Dr. Slichter suspected to be discrimination, and the woman died.

There was a professor in the division of hematology, a physician named Laurie Harker — he was interested in clotting and bleeding disorders — so I went up to Laurie and I said, ‘are you doing any work on hemolytic uremic syndrome?’

Dr. Slichter came to BloodworksNW in 1970 to develop a coagulation laboratory, and her focus has been on platelets.

We didn’t have platelets as a separate transfusion product at [BloodworksNW], so I started research studies trying to determine how to, first of all, spin the blood to separate the blood into its components: platelets, plasma, red cells.

And then once we had platelets for transfusion, we had to figure out how to store them, so I’m still working on improving methods and extending the storage time of platelets.

Once we had platelets to give, patients started to develop antibodies against the donor platelets, so we’ve been working on methods to modify platelets prior to transfusion to prevent them from being recognized as foreign by patients and rejecting them.

Dr. Slichter determined early on that platelets store better at room temperature rather than in the cold, and must be agitated during storage. A colleague says, “The platelet storage system is sort of like her — she doesn’t like to sit still.”

These advancements helped improve the prognosis for cancer patients, and made bone marrow transplantation possible.

Dr. Slichter’s original goal of extending the storage and accessibility of platelets remains. She’s currently working with the U.S. Army on freezing and freeze-drying platelets to provide for situations where fresh platelets are not feasible. Though she initially extended the life of platelets from three to five to seven days, her lab studies now show that platelets can survive for 13 days using special storage conditions. The issue is then reducing pathogens in the platelet product, but she’s working on it.

Our long-term goal is to get extended-stored, pathogen-reduced non-immunogenic platelets, and I think we’re very close potentially in the next 5-10 years to achieving that goal.

A lot has changed in attitude from when Dr. Slichter started.

There are more women medical students than men, so that’s all for good.

One thing that hasn’t changed is a commitment to advancing technology by investing in the next generation of researchers.

We don’t just draw blood, store blood and transfuse blood with established guidelines – we’re very interested in training young people.

Why three PSBC staff donate Platelets

November 19, 2014 at 4:56 pm
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Stephanie, Jeremy, and Alex donate together in Lynnwood

Platelets are the clotting component of blood needed by patients undergoing surgeries and organ transplants, and for treatment of people with cancer.

We have a critical need for platelet donors during Thanksgiving week; with high schools and colleges on break, and people busy with family gatherings and other activities, the number of people visiting donation centers and mobile drives goes down by 25 percent or more.

Three PSBC staff share here why they recently donated.

Stephanie, Training Specialist:

Today was my 17th platelet donation.

I read the emergency email when I arrived to work this morning, and when I headed out to the donor floor, I asked a staff member if they had any openings to which I get a very pronounced “YES!”.  So I grabbed my ID and headed to the registration desk and started my process.

I’m also a full time student, and donating platelets is a way for me to have a 90-minute guilt free Netflix marathon!

Jeremy, Volunteer Services Coordinator:

I donate platelets because the people who need them are important!  There is an ongoing need for platelets – due to the fact that many patients undergo platelet therapy and require multiple transfusions.  It is one, simple way for me to contribute to the precious lives of others on a regular basis.

Alex, Training Specialist:

I saw the plea for platelet donors this morning. I had to travel between sites today, and when I walked into Lynnwood to drop off paperwork, Jeremy and Stephanie were donating. The bed next to them looked comfortable so I decided to jump in.

I donated platelets for the third time on Halloween, which was also the end of a one year deferral period for me, so it feels good to get back into a routine to help the supply.

Why do you donate? Schedule your appointment at schedule.psbc.org or by calling 1-800-398-7888.

Bellingham Expansion Opening Day

February 6, 2014 at 10:28 am

Our new, larger, wi-fi equipped Bellingham Donor Center in Bakerview Square opened its doors on January 28, 2014. Donors and staff alike had glowing things to say about the new space — reactions ranged from “homey” to “new and shiny” to “like coming into a new kitchen that I can decorate!”

One of the biggest changes is that the new Donor Center allows donors to give much-needed platelets in addition to whole blood. Bonnie, a retired professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, has been donating for 15 years. She’s up to 4 gallons of whole blood with PSBC (she also donated when she lived in North Carolina) and donated platelets for the first time on opening day.

I think [donating platelets] is great – I like the idea that it can go directly to the hospital and used right away without going through as much processing.

Platelets are the component of blood that helps it clot, and are used to treat cancer patients, those receiving organ or bone marrow transplants, trauma victims, and patients undergoing open heart surgery. While there is definitely some processing involved in platelets (for example, we test all blood products for 13 different diseases, including HIV and hepatitis), platelets do not need to be separated into different components in the same way as a unit of whole blood. It takes 6 units of whole blood to generate the same amount of platelets as one platelet donation.

Was Bonnie nervous? “I’ve never been nervous about giving blood.”


Bob checks in for his donation

Bob Hungerschafer used to drive down to our Everett Donor Center every other Saturday to donate platelets right when it opened at 8 a.m. Bob has made around around 730 donations (he’s previously the world record holder), so this represents a bi-weekly two-hour commute that he no-longer needs to make.

What does he see as the best part of the new Bellingham Donor Center? “For me personally? Saving all the time and gas going to Everett! Other than that, more people being able to donate. All the people up here who couldn’t donate platelets before now have the opportunity.”

Bob has the following advice for new platelet donors:

Bring lunch! Give it a try. It’s relaxing, it’s enjoyable. Platelets are a little different – it takes a little longer, but you’re treated like royalty when you’re doing it. Bottom line: it helps people. It’s easy to do, it doesn’t take much time, and a lot of people benefit.

And the new Center? “I like it! It’s nice, neat new, and shiny. Really good people. Nice new beds. iPads are new for me – they didn’t have them at the other center. These are kinda different. And somebody here bakes homemade treats on Tuesdays!”


Bonnie and Charles

Charles read about the new Center in the Bellingham Herald and thought it was “very impressive – big change from the old one!”

“I’m a kidney patient, so the blood draw is for the kidney doctor. I come in here and roll up my sleeve, they take 2-3 vials of blood, and I’m on my way. I do that every 4 months and I’ve been doing it for 10 years since I had kidney surgery.”

The draw tests Charles’ blood for sugars, potassium, sodium, and other nutrients. “I’m on a strict diet – I was a cook in the army for about 5 years, so I know how to cook and control calorie content.”

They’re very good here. One of the reasons I come here is that it’s difficult to get it done elsewhere, and they’re experts here. They never fail.



Jerrold made his 200th recorded donation – “that’s 25 gallons. I knew they were opening the center today, and I wanted it to be opening day.”

Donating blood has personal meaning to Jerrold.

My mother, in 1952, had a cerebral hemorrhage and it took 9 pints of blood to save her life. We lived in West Seattle at the time, and they would not let me donate blood until I was 16. So I started on my 16th birthday, May 12, 1956.

Jerrold may not become a platelet donor —  “it’s pretty hard to change an old guy; I’ve donated so much whole blood” — but he’s a fan of the new facility: “I sat down and asked where the sports TV set was!”


Rick makes his donation

Rick donated the first pint of whole blood in the new location: “I’ve donated for several years, but since I’ve retired I try to do it on a more scheduled basis that’s consistent with every 56 days.”

Rick says of the new location, “Everything is brand new and you’ve got lots of tables and it’s not near as crowded as the old facility.”

Rick donates because “it’s for a really good cause and you never know when you might have a family member of loved one who is in need so I highly encourage and one to donate. It’s not painful and it’s a nice facility with pleasant staff. I have one family member that’s afraid of needles and you never know when you’re going to need it. Plus, both of my parents have had multiple heart surgeries and have needed transfusions, so I’m just hoping to replenish that supply that they’ve used!”

Previously, I hadn’t had a particular day that I donate, and I ended up in December on Tuesday and the center has a special volunteer who donates treats and I decided to make it my regular day. My wife went in the last time with me and got her to give up one of recipes so that we could make it for the holidays!


Helen displays her beautiful fruit pizza!

Helen is the woman behind the treats! She’s been volunteering with Puget Sound Blood Center for a little over a year — she previously “worked at St. Joseph hospital [as a nurse] and when I retired, I was looking for other things to do in the way of volunteering, and this was one of them. ”

Every Tuesday I bake something. I always bake a cake or cookies, or cobbler.

For the opening, she made a fruit pizza, black forest cake, and a coconut cream cake.

Her favorite part of volunteering is, “meeting the people and talking to the people – it’s the relationship and just trust and friendship that you have with not only the people who work here but the people who come and go here. [My interactions with donors] are all memorable in some ways, and they’re all good.”

What does she like most about the new Center? “Just the newness and the excitement that everybody has. The anticipation. All of it – the first day you buy your house, the first day you go to your new job, so all that anticipation and wonderment.”

Come visit us in Bellingham at Bakerview Square (410 W Bakerview Rd, Suite 117)! Schedule your appointment today.

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