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.
Bloodworks in the Community – Bloodworks Northwest BlogBloodworks Northwest Blog
Blood connects all of us as human beings. Bloodworks’ lifesaving mission allows us to connect and celebrate with members of the communities we serve around the year, 24/7/365.
However, the summer months give us an opportunity to not only share our mission but to recognize, commemorate, and honor others as we observe certain events that bring us together.
In June, we celebrated two important events: Juneteenth and Pride.
Iesha James and Rozi Romanesco spread awareness of Bloodworks Cord Blood Program at two Juneteenth events in Seattle.
70% of patients in need of a stem cell transplant will not find a donor within their family. Those patients will need to hope that there is an unrelated match within the international stem cell registry. Because genetics are tied to family ancestry, you’re more likely to find a match within your own ethnic background. Unfortunately, Black and African American patients have a lower chance of finding an unrelated match than individuals of other races.
Cord blood dramatically increases the potential for a match compared to adult bone marrow because the cells in the umbilical cord are more adaptable. This is one reason why it’s so important to have more Black and African American cord blood donors.
Iesha shares more on why you should consider donating your baby’s cord blood.
While Bloodworks serves everyone in our community in need of a lifesaving blood transfusion, it’s an unfortunate reality that many gay and bisexual men cannot donate blood due to FDA restrictions.
Bloodworks has been an active supporter of changing the MSM deferral for over a decade.
We participated in Seattle PrideFest to thank our LGBTQIA+ donors and to educate the community on other inclusive ways to get involved through donation for research, volunteer opportunities, and current job openings.
Want to do more? Local ad agency (and Bloodworks partner) Green Rubino put together a campaign to end donation discrimination.
Bloodworks staff in their own words
We were so pleased to return to PrideFest, and join for both days this year. The energy is always inspiring. Bloodworks is proud to stand with its LGBTQIA+ employees and support the broader Seattle community. Sharing our resources on cord blood and other donation opportunities is vital to our work, and it was a fantastic weekend meeting current and potential donors.
We talked to many people about community blood donation, and reminded quite a few to donate again! We also explained to many inquisitive visitors that folks ineligible for the community blood supply may be able to donate for research. Marci and Jesse from HR stopped by to deliver handouts about open positions, so we also shared info about promising new careers at Bloodworks. Of course, I shared the wonders that cord blood donation can do for patients suffering from leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell disease.
I really enjoyed being at Pride Fest this year and was very touched to see all the people who had interest in helping give back in some way – whether it be donations, volunteering or applying to work with us, it felt more like it should be called ‘Love Fest’ to me for that reason. Everyone there was so happy and so accepting of one another and it’s just great to be somewhere that everyone feels they can truly be themselves and not be judged, even if it is just for two days a year, it gives me hope for the future.
On a different note, I was a bit saddened by the fact that even in this day-in-age and with all the technology that we have for testing blood, etc., the FDA still states that homosexual men cannot donate blood unless they have abstained for 3 months. To me this is a little bit archaic and I wish it would change. One man came up and said he was saddened by this because he was in a bad car accident in HS and needed many pints of blood throughout his recovery and wishes that he was able to give back in some way all these years later but cannot because he is a gay man… it hurt to hear and I hope that it changes. Other than that, it was an amazing experience and I encourage everyone to go at least once in their lives! It was awesome to be there representing BWNW as well!
First off I want to say that that the people who joined us to represent Bloodworks truly represent our mission. They were so excited to tell everyone about the various options to help the community through blood donation and awareness. We had a lot of folks come up to tell us that they appreciate what we do, which meant so much. Many people who came up to our booth did not know that donating blood for research or creating awareness about our cord blood program can be hugely impactful in saving lives. We had a great chance to also create awareness about the initiatives to change the policies for blood donation to a more science based approach, which I think was appreciated.
Last weekend being my first time attending this event, I was thankful for the acceptance our community has for its people, and had a wonderful time despite the uncharacteristically hot weather!
A Father’s Day Gift Like No Other — Stanford Blood Center
We hope everyone had a very happy Father’s Day! It’s one of life’s joys to be able to spend quality time with your family on special occasions. Our Marketing and Communications Specialist, Felicia Gonsalves, knows first-hand the impact blood donors have on patients’ lives. She shares her story of how her family came awfully close to losing that valuable time, and how it motivated her to pay it forward.
It was a day Felicia Gonsalves will never forget and one that changed her life forever. She had just returned to the Bay Area after a family trip to Lake Tahoe during the Fourth of July weekend in 2019.
That’s when she got a call no one wants to receive: her dad was in the emergency room. The doctors tested him for what they considered to be worst-case scenario — and it turned out to be just that. After significant strain on his heart, David Gonsalves’ aorta had dissected (torn). His diagnosis was so critical that he had to be life-flighted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Felicia quickly drove up to UC Davis to be at her father’s side.
“It’s a struggle to watch it happen to a loved one. Panic set in, not knowing what was going to happen to him,” said Felicia. “The waiting was excruciating, and you feel helpless because you’re not able to do anything for him.”
Fortunately, her father survived, but it was a harrowing experience. “Honestly, it was a miracle! The doctors told us that most patients with a similar diagnosis don’t survive.” Felicia remembers seeing some of the life-flight crew that took her dad to the hospital come by to check on him a few days later after he was out of ICU. They were so happy to see her dad because they knew from experience that most people who go through this ordeal don’t make it. In fact, his recovery is so rare, that doctors at Barton Memorial Hospital in Lake Tahoe have asked to do a case study on David’s situation.
Once her dad was back on his feet, Felicia asked herself what could she possibly do to show her gratitude to all those on his care team who helped her father bounce back and regain his health. “A simple thank-you note wasn’t enough. I could write each and every one of them, but it wouldn’t be able to express how grateful I was for their compassion and kindness,” said Felicia.
That’s when she was finally able to muster up enough courage to donate blood. Despite working at SBC, Felicia was always scared to donate blood. In addition to having a fear of needles, she also had particularly tricky veins that made it more challenging to donate. But, after the experience her family went through, she was determined to overcome her fear and make a difference. “The best thank you I could possibly give was to give the gift of life,” she said.
It was also a way to honor her father who was an avid blood donor. David has worked for years at a local elementary school, where he made a habit of donating at mobile blood drives. Though his medical situation has made it impossible for him to donate currently, he still spreads the word about the need for donors and shares his story every chance he gets.
David Gonsalves was given a second chance. A chance to spend quality time with family and friends. And a chance to enjoy Father’s Day with his daughter. “It’s always front of mind this time of year,” said Felicia. “I got this time with my dad that others unfortunately don’t always get to experience. So, as a blood donor, the only way I could show thanks was to try to do the same for somebody else.”
Just after the two-year anniversary of her father’s recovery, Felicia’s grandfather, Ernesto became very sick. They found out that both of his kidneys and his liver were failing. At the hospital, he had been given several transfusions, but they learned that he didn’t have much time left. Over the next four months, he continued to receive blood products before passing away in February of 2022. Felicia and her family are so grateful for the extra time they had with Ernesto. The gift of time is something Felicia and her family want to continue giving to other families.
Felicia continues to advocate for the importance of blood donation. She has encouraged friends to donate, and some have taken her up on that offer. “Donating blood takes only about an hour, but can have such a large impact on someone else’s life. There’s no better way to thank someone for giving you more time; it’s priceless!”
Like Father, Like Daughter — Stanford Blood Center
Balaji Iyer recently made his 100th milestone blood donation at our Mountain View center — a moment he had hoped to share with someone very special. Unfortunately, illness delayed his 16-year-old daughter Satvika from making her very first donation that same day. But sometimes things have a funny way of working out. Satvika finally got a chance to donate blood last week, just as we get ready to celebrate Father’s Day! Their donation was a very special gift for this father/daughter duo, and a life-saving gift for someone’s parent or child in need.
Ross Coyle, Public Relations Officer, interviewed the two about making blood donation a family affair.
What led you to donate blood the first time?
I have been donating blood since I was 20 years old. I grew up in Mumbai, India and was part of a volunteer group that would provide blood donations for patients in a hospital blood center. I thought of blood donation as one of the easiest ways to contribute positively to society. There was an element of sacrifice (time and logistics) involved that made the contribution worth the effort. I also liked the fact that it was a random act of kindness: I was blind to who got the donation, absolving myself from judgment of whether the recipient deserved that kindness. The truth is we all deserve kindness without judgment and that is enshrined in this act.
Is there a motivation behind becoming a blood donor?
I have benefited enormously from all that society has to offer. I have been blessed with a great education, financial freedoms, good health and the things that money cannot buy. I am grateful to my country and the community that I live in. Blood donation is one way of doing good and giving back a little. It definitely involves time and priority management. We all have busy lives, but it’s important to make time to do good. I have AB+ blood (meaning I can give universal plasma, aka “liquid gold,” which only about 4% of the U.S. population has) and know that when I donate, there are many lives that benefit.
Did you ever think you would reach your 100th Milestone donation?
Not really, I was not focused on a specific number. Since my parents lived in India and I had business that took me there (and India is an endemic malaria zone with a three-month donation deferral period now for travel), I had multiple years of deferrals throughout my years of donations with Stanford Blood Center. Once I got close to my 90th donation, I definitely wanted to celebrate the milestone of giving my 100th donation with my daughter, Satvika, as she became old enough to do her first.
Every milestone in life should be celebrated. It was an opportunity to realize that I was on the path of making a difference. Every journey is a collection of small steps in life. I also realize that there are many donors with 700+ lifetime donations, so there is also that “good competition!” The idea is to do the best that you can, in ways that you can. Be a force for good in life. I also openly talk about this milestone with friends and family. This could be misinterpreted as boisterous pride, but my objective is to spread awareness and encourage others to do what they can.
What does it mean to have your daughter making her very FIRST donation?
Yes, it is great to see my daughter choosing to commit to contribute positively to society. Satvika wants to lead organizing the next SBC blood donation drive at her high school. She is developing into a great leader there as president of the environmental society. Satvika also contributes with her data science skills to research remotely as an intern in a lab associated with studying the development of neurological diseases at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. All this while keeping her weighted GPA at 4.6 this past school year. I hope she continues to contribute to her community and society!
What have you told her about becoming a blood donor?
We have been blessed with a lot in life, do the best that you can! Choose to be a force for good. Focus on your health by investing time in regular exercise and good nutrition and hydration. You have a role to play in keeping your body fit for a donation. Do what you can, when you have the opportunity to; health is not something that you can take for granted and factors beyond your control can also affect you. Choose to give and your cup will be filled. Enjoy giving and contributing to your neighborhood and society. There is such a thing as good karma and we do live in a circular society, we may not often realize this but what we put into the universe comes right back to us.
Is it extra special for you as we approach Father’s Day?
I feel blessed and grateful that she is healthy and able to contribute. You can never take anything for granted. I am happy that she believes in the cause and to the extent that I have been an influence in helping her make that choice. I feel like I am doing my job. I remember her as a kindergartener, joining me on bike rides to SBC enthusiastically to snack on the cookies and POG. Glad that she can earn her own POG now!
Note: Interviewed just prior to donation
Are you excited about your very first blood donation with Stanford Blood Center?
Yes! I’m so excited for my first blood donation at the center, hopefully one of many more to come. I believe that if you have ample access to such an essential resource as blood, it is your responsibility to share with others.
How are you feeling as you’re about to donate? Excited? Nervous? A little of both?
I am so excited to donate. When I was younger, my dad and I would bike in tandem to his donation, and I think it’s a full-circle moment to go into my first donation in tandem. Honestly, the photos my dad sends me while donating recently make it seem comparable to a cozy movie night in — curled up in a blanket while watching a movie, sipping on bottomless POG juice and toting some cookies; the reward for an invaluable donation seems to arrive in waves, some in the form of instant gratification.
Has this been something you’ve been wanting to do for a while?
Along with the list, including filing as an organ donor and getting my drivers permit, this experience is something I have wanted to do as soon as I could. A lif- altering pint in my body seemingly lazing around as surplus when it could find its defining purpose in another stream undercuts the potential of that blood, and along with giving that blood purpose, it gives me fulfillment as well.
Do you think you will become a regular blood donor?
Oh, most definitely. Plasma, or liquid gold as my dad likes to call it, is sourced only through human donation (like other blood products), and is imperative for the treatment of genetic and contracted diseases alike. It’s a simple way to give back to my community, and I know I will make time for it regularly going forward.
I understand you want to be a blood donation advocate for your high school. Have you already begun taking steps to help spread the word with your classmates?
Yes! I actually contacted Stanford Blood Center and my school’s principal in order to organize a mobile blood drive. I also believe in sharing education, since as high schoolers we can be wary and almost dismissive of anything shrouded in mystery, and the process of blood donation could be a point of less of interest in high schoolers. I think knowing the inner workings and impact of blood donation will go a long way in producing lifelong donors. Don’t hold the cookies either!
You’re making your first donation right before Father’s Day. What does that mean to you?
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness, or in my case, a daughter can pay to their father. I think this is a testament to the impact my parents have had on my life so far, and, in general, the habits we see practiced by our parents are the ones we take to and emulate most easily. The fact my dad is a blood donor bodes well for his future commitment to our joint workouts, racquetball matches and Scrabble marathons: he’s not going to stop anytime soon!
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