Meet the Investigators (S2 E20) – Bloodworks Northwest Blog
We find investigators in a lot of places, mainly in movie and television crime dramas. But there is a group of dedicated investigators at the Bloodworks Research Institute in Seattle that looks into cases of life and death every day. In this edition of Bloodworks 101, host John Yeager introduces us to that group; Dr. Jose Lopez, Sumi Paranjape, Dr. Moritz Stolla, Dr. Jing-Fei Dong and Dr. Jill Johnsen. In this episode entitled, “Meet the Investigators,” you’ll learn that what drives them is a deep and abiding desire to save lives. Full transcript below.
Sumi: The research institute has been a best kept secret. I think that we have a lot of potential for advancing and expanding what we do and I’m just, I’m incredibly excited about that.
John: I’m John Yeager and this is “Bloodworks 101.” Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Every good mystery has a twist and some suspense. Your protagonist is a good guy looking for clues, Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, the detectives on CSI, Columbo, Miss Marple. All of these investigators have one thing in common, they don’t stop until they solve the case. They keep looking for clues, but, you know, investigators aren’t just private eyes that we romanticize in the movies. You find them all over, all sorts of places like the Bloodworks Research Institute in Seattle. In fact for the next few minutes, you’ll meet five of them, Jose Lopez, Sumi Paranjape, Moritz Stolla, Jing-Fei Dong, and Jill Johnsen, all world class investigators on a mission to save lives. So we’re calling this episode, “Meet The Investigators.”
Jose: I’m Jose Lopez. I’m the chief science officer at Bloodworks Northwest.
John: By all accounts, a world class investigator who comes from a most unassuming place.
Jose: I come from a little village high in the mountains of Northern New Mexico actually about 8,000 feet high. It’s a little farming village. I grew up on a farm and ranch. We had cattle and subsistence farming. I went to school there until college. I went to college also in New Mexico before going to medical school there and coming up to Seattle for residency and fellowship. So at the moment, we’re working on a three-year plan to build the research institute. So I’m working with other members of leadership to develop a plan for growing in a sustainable way and also starting to recruit other investigators.
John: In that little town in the hills of New Mexico, Jose Lopez was nurtured by a natural curiosity and a stream that ran through his backyard.
Jose: I was basically always outside. So when I was in high school, I did not have good grades because I couldn’t stay in to do homework. I just couldn’t stay inside. And, yeah, there was a stream and it’s high enough up there that there are a lot of trout. And we had built a little swimming pool in that stream in the back, and that pool attracted lots of trout. They are really wary trout, but I used to go and walk in the field near the stream and collect grasshoppers, and then I would toss them into the stream, upstream of the…and let them float in, and just watch what kind of patterns of the water would take the grass-…where it would take the grasshopper and how the fish would react to it. And it basically taught me really a lot about their biology because I could actually do little experiments. What if I throw it here, what if I throw it there, what are they like. So I became really good at fly fishing just because of those little experiments. Yeah, so that’s how basically I’ve learned about nature. And sometimes I say that, you know, one of the goals of our research is to kind of put ourselves out of business to understand blood to the point that we don’t need to use as much of it. But, you know, I think that, you know, in the end we’re all trying to do something to make the lives of people better.
Sumi: I’m Sumi Paranjape. I’m the chief operating officer of the Bloodworks Northwest Research Institute. Yes, so we are…you know, the Bloodworks Research Institute is unique for many reasons. We are unique because of our scientists, we are unique because of what they do, but we’re very unique because we sit in a blood center. And that blood center enables us to have those opportunities to connect the laboratory science directly to the patients, you know. And that is…that in the end is what’s going to keep us going and what’s going to continue to make us, you know, the best in the world and the best at what we do. At Bloodworks, we study blood and specifically, we study the mechanisms of blood flow and how we stop blood flow which is called hemostasis, and we study the mechanisms of clotting or thrombosis. Our scientists also perform translational clinical research into bleeding disorders. This includes bleeding disorders such as sickle cell anemia and rare bleeding disorders. We’re also proud to work, we’re developing novel treatments for bleeding disorders specifically in women and girls. And finally, we have a very well established clinical program that develops and evaluates platelet and red blood cell function, and storage.
John: Can you accurately describe this place as a best kept secret and why shouldn’t it be?
Sumi: It is definitely a best kept secret. There is so much research going on at Bloodworks Research Institute that is just fundamental to new cures and fundamental to our understanding of disease. One example I’ll use is the recent complications that we’ve seen with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That is caused by…basically what’s happening is clots are forming in these women who were having issues and this is one of the things that our scientists are studying. And so the knowledge that they have combined with other medical knowledge is so powerful and will lead to additional cures, additional diagnostics, and really opportunities for prolonged life.
John: Biggest challenge right now in front of you?
Sumi: You know, I think the challenge that we face at the research institute is very similar to the challenge that many research institutes face, which is how do we create opportunities to translate new scientific discoveries into, you know, tangible and enduring medical treatments. One of the reasons I took the job was because the research institute is doing and is poised to do more translational research. And what we mean by translational research is how do we take basic scientific discoveries and make sure that they…that those discoveries can become treatments, cures, and diagnostics to improve the lives of patients.
John: You’ve told me before that you’ve spent years of your life in a lab. Why?
Sumi: That very recent. So when I was a kid, I had really severe asthma. Sometimes I would spend months and months of a year in the hospital. Sometimes up to half a year was spent in the hospital. You know, and so as a child, those experiences are formative and I came to realize that, you know, for my life, in my life, I wanted to find a way to give back to science and medicine. And at the time, it was more of a binary decision. So you would either do research or you would do medicine, and some people did both. But I made a decision when I was probably 9 years old that I wanted to be a scientist so that I could help to discover cures.
John: Dr. Moritz Stolla is also an investigator who works at the research institute. He’s German, originally trained in internal medicine and cardiology. He’s become passionate about platelets.
Dr. Stolla: Transfusion medicine is a subspecialty of clinical pathology and so this is… And since I was investigating platelets, it all came…it all made sense basically.
John: What was it about transfusion medicine and platelets that attracted him so much?
Dr. Stolla: Yeah. It’s a good question. I think it’s just…I just think a fascination with biology and mechanisms, and ultimately from a physician scientist point of view, also the ability to help patients, right?
John: Stolla says, yes, he does look at himself as an investigator who works off an instinct, a hunch, and a career’s worth of experience.
Dr. Stolla: I think so, yes. I think that’s part of the scientific method, right? We have observed things, we have a hypothesis, and then you try to disprove the hypothesis. And then it comes what you just mentioned, you have to do it thoroughly, diligently. Honestly also, I mean, a lot of… Nobody likes the most favorite hypothesis to be disproven, right? But the data are the datas is another commonly used slogan, right, in research where we just have to deal with it, right? The facts are the facts. The data don’t lie, right? That’s just the way it is.
John: And if you ask him why platelet storage is so important, he’ll tell you, the answers are a matter of life and death in combat zones and remote civilian hospitals all over the world.
Dr. Stolla: Yeah, that’s a good point. So the major…I would say the major problem with platelets right now is they can only be stored for five to seven days.
John: So I mean, it sounds like we’re getting to the heart of your research right now. What you’re saying is that the ability to understand storage of platelets does have lifesaving consequence, right?
Dr. Stolla: Yes, that’s correct.
John: Dr. Jing-Fei Dong is another investigator at the research institute. His field of study, traumatic brain injury or TBI.
Dr. Dong: Trauma patients often bleed out…bleeding uncontrollably. In fact, 70% of trauma patients got killed because of bleeding, but these are not traditional hematology but rather hematological presentation in non-hematological disease. This is a fascinating area because number one, I know a lot more about TBI because of my clinical training. Number two, how a tiny injury to the brain… You know, if you got a liver injury or you have a long bone fracture, that massive area of injury, so you have shock and you have bleeding, all of that understandable. But in the brain, the injury, normally measured in millimeter or centimeters, not in meters or not… You know, talk about bleeding, liver rupture, you can lose up to liters of blood in about an hour or less, where in a brain injury, 200 or 100 milliliter of blood loss can kill you.
John: How close are we to giving hope to somebody who has a traumatic brain injury? Are we making strides that give the ordinary person hope?
Dr. Dong: Oh, yeah. There are huge amount improvement.
John: And then there’s Dr. Jill Johnsen, an investigator who’s one of the hematologists at the Washington Institute for Coagulation in the University of Washington.
Dr. Johnsen: And I care for patients with bleeding disorders, and I do research on the causes of why we have variation in how we clot our blood, and why do we have trouble with our blood groups and transfusion. So I work at the intersection between giving clinical care, and trying to better understand why people have disease, and putting the two together to make both sides better.
John: What’s a normal day like for Dr. Johnsen? That’s a tough question. There is no normal day. It just doesn’t happen.
Dr. Johnsen: Oh, gosh. I don’t really have a good answer for that one. I really don’t have any days that are the same. You know, some days I’m seeing patients in clinic, some days I’m taking call over the weekend. So lots of days where I’m talking to the people in the lab to help think about how to troubleshoot an assay or coordinate that everybody’s getting that precious sample to the right place, and sometimes I’m sitting in meetings with my collaborators brainstorming, you know, what are the big questions we should be answering. The biggest question is why is everyone so different? But I can’t tell why. Everyone is so different from each other. So we have people that have the same diagnosis, they might even have the exact same lab value, but they bleed differently than each other. And that’s a really important thing to understand, why does someone who looks exactly like their sibling have different bleeding? You know, it’s probably something related to the rest of their genetic makeup or maybe it’s something about other things that…in their environment, but we really don’t understand that. And if I’m gonna take better care of people on the clinical side, I wanna know who can have a lot of bleeding and who’s not. And if I’m gonna do better research, I mean, to better refine these questions, so I can better say like, “Here’s the person,” and articulate, “Here’s exactly what they’ve got with their disease.” So I can say, “Oh, well, there’s a lab test that clearly the labs are missing something.” Well, what is that something the labs are missing? I work with a fantastic team. Like, you know, science is not a solo sport. It is absolutely a team you’re surrounded with, and how clever people can be, and bringing people together with different skill sets. It’s definitely a fantastic place to work in interdisciplinary science. We’ve got to have a new approach, bring new tools, go back to the clinic and say, does this make sense, what we learned from the clinic, go back to the bench, you know, we’re still missing the boat, why do we keep missing the boat, where do we think our blind spots are, and just keep going. And there’s never gonna be one answer which is why it’s complicated, but also why it’s so cool, you know.
John: As any good investigator would say, there’s never going to be just one answer. It’s always gonna be complicated, but I loved how Dr. Johnsen wrapped it up there. She says, that’s why it’s so cool. Well, that just about wraps it up for this episode of “Bloodworks 101,” except there’s one thing I need to tell you about. On June 3rd, join us for an evening of science benefiting the Bloodworks Research Institute. Our investigators will take you on a virtual exploration of the power within a pint of blood. All proceeds from the event and auction will directly benefit the Bloodworks Research Institute, the innovative arm of Bloodworks, creating cures and advancement in medicine through lifesaving blood research. The Raise Your Pints event is free to attend. Upgrade your experience to include beer and/or a gelato tasting box delivered to your home in time for the virtual event. Last day to purchase beer and gelato is May 26th. Complimentary delivery is available in Seattle, Portland, and Eugene. If you live outside these areas, please contact us prior to completing your order to arrange shipment so it gets there in time. Email us at [email protected] Register now at raiseyourpints.givesmart.com. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. All right, that’s it for “Bloodworks 101.” I’m John Yeager. See you next time.
FAQ on COVID-19 and Blood Donation — Stanford Blood Center
We would like to take this opportunity to provide some additional information about coronavirus and blood donation. Our hope is that people interested in donating blood consider all of the facts of the situation, namely that COVID-19 does not pose any special risk to blood donors during the donation process or from attending blood drives. We would like to encourage all blood donors to continue to uphold their commitment to helping local patients, who continuously depend on life-saving transfusions.
In order to keep our community healthy and to make sure we are being mindful of your time, we’d like to remind you ahead of your appointment of some of our policies that may affect you eligibility to donate. Please reschedule your appointment if you have any symptoms of illness, such as a fever, cough, sore throat, congestion or G.I. symptoms. Previous diagnosis of or close contact with someone with who has COVID-19 may also affect your eligibility. However, receiving a Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not affect your eligibility to donate. Please read more below under the “Eligibility” section to learn more.
GENERAL INFORMATION ON COVID-19
What is 2019 novel coronavirus?
- The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new strain of the coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in late 2019.
- The virus has spread globally, and there are currently cases throughout the U.S., including within Santa Clara County.
What are the symptoms?
- Common symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath, among others.
- These symptoms will vary person to person, though most individuals with coronavirus will experience mild to moderate symptoms that do not require hospitalization.
- To view the full list of symptoms, view the CDC website.
How does it spread?
- According to Stanford Health Care, the virus is believed to spread “by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” similar to the common cold or flu.
- Accordingly, the best way to prevent getting the virus is by washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with your mouth, nose and eyes when your hands are dirty.
- For more specific guidelines, see “How do I stay healthy?” below.
- Note that COVID-19 does not pose any special risk to blood donors during the donation process or from attending blood drives.
How can I keep myself healthy?
- Please use the following best practices for keeping yourself well:
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- It is also important to stay home and minimize contact with others if you have symptoms of a respiratory illness like fever or cough.
What should I do if I have or am suspected of having coronavirus?
- If you have been diagnosed with (or are suspected of having) COVID-19, or if you have had close contact with someone diagnosed with (or suspected of having) COVID-19, please call our Resource Nurse at 650- 725-7336 to discuss your eligibility to donate.
- If you have recently donated blood and any of the above scenarios apply, please call our Post-Donation Callback Line at 650-724-9968 immediately so we can evaluate your previous donations.
ONGOING BLOOD NEED
Why is it critical that I continue to give blood during this time?
- Even during the pandemic, individuals in our community — potentially even individuals we know personally — will continue to be in car accidents, need emergency organ transplants, give birth to babies in critical condition and need chemotherapy. In short, there will still be lives that need saving.
- We understand that this is a stressful time and want to assure you that we are taking your health and wellness very seriously. All of our practices are designed with this in mind, and additional policies have been implemented as an extra precaution. (See “What measures is SBC taking to ensure donor safety?” below.)
If your appointment schedule is filling up when I want to donate, should I walk into a center?
- SBC is accepting walk-ins at this time.
- However, we recommend that you make an appointment ahead of time to ensure you do not experience extended wait times.
Is there a risk of getting coronavirus from donating blood?
- COVID-19 does not pose any special risk to blood donors during the donation process or from attending blood drives.
- Blood donation is a safe process, and we have implemented additional safety precautions at this time.
- Please keep in mind that, since blood donors must be healthy and without fever on the day of donation, the risk of exposure to a sick person is extremely low at a blood drive.
Now that there is a presence of COVID-19 variants in California, is it still safe for me to donate?
- Yes, it is still both safe (and necessary for patients’ health) for our community to continue donating blood.
- All of the safety measure we currently have in place, such as requirement that everyone at a donation location wear a new mask (See more under “What measures is SBC taking to ensure donor safety?”), are expected to protect against all forms of COVID-19.
- As long as you continue following safety protocol, there is no need to be worried about an increased risk of catching a COVID-19 variant during donation.
What measures is SBC taking to ensure donor safety?
- As always, all of our equipment during the donation process is sterilized, and most is single-use only.
- Hand sanitizers are placed throughout donation sites.
- All donor areas, including the reception/waiting area, canteen, history booths and donation chairs are cleaned frequently.
- We have increased spacing between donors in the canteen to the extent possible.
- SBC team members wear face masks while interacting with donors during the entire donation process. All donors, volunteers and team members are required to wear a new, disposable face covering (provided by SBC) each day they come to a donation site.
- SBC team members at all of our collection sites are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
- SBC is continuing to strictly enforce the policy that team members must NOT report to work if they are feeling unwell.
What is done to ensure those donating are healthy and well?
- Per our usual policy, anyone who comes to donate is required to be feeling healthy and well; donors are asked to read a list of COVID-19 symptoms upon entry to a donation location and to report if they are experiencing any of the symptoms. If they report that they are, they will kindly be asked to leave by our registrars for the safety of others onsite. Symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea and vomiting and diarrhea.
- All donors are asked if they are feeling well on their donor history questionnaire as soon as they register and are not permitted to stay and donate if they report any symptoms of illness.
- Per our usual policy, any person who wants to donate blood must have their temperature taken before they donate and is not permitted to stay and donate if they have a fever.
- Donors are not eligible to donate if they have any risk factors for coronavirus, such as close contact with a person with coronavirus in the past 14 days.
Will I be deferred if I have received the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Assuming you are feeling well afterwards, there is no deferral for COVID-19 vaccines that have received Emergency Use Authorization or been approved for the public.
- This includes the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
- However, if you received an experimental vaccine as part of a clinical trial, you will be deferred for 56 days.
What are your deferral policies for diagnosis of/exposure to COVID-19?
- Basic COVID-19 deferrals are as follows:
- 14-day deferral for exposure to someone diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19.
- 28-day deferral after recovery (28 days symptom-free) if you were diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19
- 56-day deferral if you received an experimental vaccine as part of a clinical trial
- (Per the above, there is no deferral for receiving a vaccine that has received Emergency Use Authorization, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.)
- Temporary deferral for anyone with a pending diagnostic test for COVID-19
- Anyone who has been asked to quarantine by doctors or local officials for participation in high risk activities
- We encourage anyone who falls into the above categories and has questions to call our Resource Nurse at 650-725-7336 to discuss their eligibility.
- If you have recently donated blood and any of the aforementioned scenarios apply, please call our Post-Donation Callback Line at 650-724-9968 immediately so we can evaluate your previous donations.
- Learn more about our deferral policies by clicking here.
I feel healthy, but I’m worried that I have coronavirus but am asymptomatic. Is it still okay to donate?
- We really appreciate your concern! The first thing to note is that respiratory viruses are not known to be transmitted by blood transfusion, and there is no evidence to-date that SARS-CoV-2 can be transfusion-transmitted.
- That said, routine blood donor evaluation will help prevent individuals with respiratory infections from donating. Blood donors must be healthy and have no symptoms of illness or fever on the day of donation (we take temperature on site, per our usual policy).
- In addition, we are taking extra precautions for COVID-19 and have in place deferrals for close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.
- If you ever do start to develop symptoms, we have a Post-Donation Callback Line that you can call after your donation, and we will immediately perform the appropriate follow-up. This goes for any illness.
- If you are not experiencing any symptoms of illness and have not had any known exposure, we would love for you to come donate! We and patients in our community hospitals that need blood transfusions appreciate your willingness to donate.
Are there any travel deferrals?
- When cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. were still low, SBC did implement a deferral for travel to high-risk areas internationally.
- However, as the global health situation has evolved, we no longer feel that international travel history is an effective way to assess COVID-19 infection risk.
- In accordance with updated FDA recommendations, on May 28, 2020, SBC eliminated COVID-19-related travel deferrals.
Is SBC testing all donations for antibodies?
- As of October 16, 2020, SBC is no longer testing all donations for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
- For a full assessment of previous exposure to SARS-CoV-2, please consult your primary physician.
Can I get a blood test to find out if I have (or had) COVID-19?
- The CDC has provided criteria to guide lab testing for COVID-19.
- If you are concerned that you may have COVID-19, it is important that you are evaluated by a physician. After reviewing your medical history, such as symptoms and possible exposures, a physician will determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.
- Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is not performed at Stanford Blood Center.
Are SBC team members vaccinated against COVID-19?
- Yes. Team members at all of our collection sites are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Where can I find updates regarding your policies on coronavirus?
Can plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 be used to treat patients with active infection?
- During the height of the pandemic, Stanford Blood Center established a convalescent plasma program that involved taking plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients and transfusing that plasma into hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the hopes that the antibodies present in the donated plasma would help save the lives of the recipients.
- Due to a decrease in the need for convalescent plasma as local cases have gone down, we are no longer recruiting for this program.
If someone can’t donate blood for any reason, are there other ways to help?
- Absolutely! If someone has been deferred or can’t give blood for any reason, they can still make an impact in a number of ways:
- Visit our website at stanfordbloodcenter.org/get-involved for more information.
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