Bethesda, Md. - The National Blood Foundation (NBF) Board of Trustees recently announced the recipients of the 2009 NBF Scientific Research Grants. Each grant recipient will receive up to $75,000 to pursue either a one- or two-year research project in the field of blood banking, transfusion medicine or cellular therapies. NBF has awarded more than $6 million in grants since 1985 to 159 early-career researchers. This year’s recipients are: Alicia Bárcena, PhD; Daniel Gonzalez-Nieto, PhD; Taku Kambayashi, MD, PhD; Chance John Luckey, MD, PhD; Nicolas Pineault, PhD; Ayaz Rahman, MD; and Rahima Zennadi, PhD.
“The Committee was very impressed with the scientific quality of submissions received and by the overall quantity of applications submitted,” said Connie Westhoff, PhD, SBB, chair of the NBF Grants Review Committee. “The ultimate decision regarding which applications showed the most potential and promise was challenging and not all proposals with scientific merit were able to be funded due to fiscal limitations. We are very pleased by the quality of research that will be performed, and applaud the awardees for their innovative research approaches to advancing transfusion medicine and cellular therapies.”
Proposals for NBF grants are evaluated on the basis of their scientific merit and relevance to and impact on transfusion medicine, cellular therapies and science. NBF scientific research grants are made possible by contributions from NBF's Council on Research and Development (CORD) members and its NBF Partners, along with gifts from individuals, institutions and foundations.
Five of the seven research projects will focus on cellular therapies. The following are synopses of the seven funded proposals:
Alicia Bárcena, PhD, University of California San Francisco
Evaluation of human fetal membranes as a source of hematopoietic stem cells.
Fetal/newborn hematopoietic stem cells have a higher potential for proliferation compared with adult hematopoietic stem cells; therefore, they might offer an advantage to patients undergoing a stem cell transplant. In an earlier study, Bárcena and colleagues found that human placentas, like umbilical cord blood, contain hematopoietic stem cells. They are currently investigating whether such cells also are contained in fetal membranes — the thin layers of tissue surrounding a fetus, sometimes called the chorion and the amnion. If this is found to be the case, the fetal membranes, which are typically discarded after birth, will be a substantial source of hematopoietic stem cells for patients.
Daniel Gonzalez-Nieto, PhD, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
Connexin-43 in the hematopoietic stem cell niche.
Gonzalez-Nieto and colleagues are investigating the role that intercellular communication mediated by proteins called connexins plays in the development of blood cells from hematopoietic stem cells. Specifically, their research is focused on the role of connexin-43 in the bone marrow. Their study could provide valuable information regarding the regulatory mechanisms by which connexin-43 controls hematopoietic stem cell function in the bone marrow hematopoietic microenvironment. This research may be useful in combating many disorders relating to blood cell production as well as mitigating the effects of chemotherapy on the production of blood cells.
Taku Kambayashi, MD, PhD, University of Pennsylvania – Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
The role of GMCSF in regulatory T-cell proliferation and homeostasis.
The immune system is a vital aspect of the body’s defenses, but sometimes it can become too much of a good thing. Kambayashi and colleagues are investigating the role that a specific protein — called granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor — plays in supporting and inducing the production of regulatory T cells, which suppress overexuberant immune activity in the body. Kambayashi’s study may help pave the way for the use of regulatory T cells in novel therapies for graft-versus-host disease, transplant rejection and autoimmunity.
Chance John Luckey, MD, PhD, Brigham and Women's Hospital Blood Bank
Directed differentiation of embryonic stem cells by regulated caspase-9 cleavage of zona-occludens-2.
Stem cells hold remarkable promise as the basis of therapy for many diseases that are currently incurable. Luckey and colleagues are striving to determine how the splitting, or cleavage, of a protein called zona-occludens-2 by another protein called caspase-9 affects a stem cell’s transformation into a specialized cell, such as a heart or liver cell. Their research may help pave the way for the future development of stem cell-based cellular therapies for patients with cardiovascular disease, liver disease and a host of other conditions.
Nicolas Pineault, PhD, Héma-Québec
A cellular-based therapy to prevent or reduce thrombocytopenia.
Thrombocytopenia, a dangerous condition in which there are not enough platelets in the blood, can result from several diseases as well as high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation. Platelet transfusion is currently the only treatment available; however, patients undergoing multiple transfusions are at greater risk of developing an immune response to the donor platelets. Pineault and his research team are aiming to establish a cellular-based therapy that will hasten platelet recovery in patients, which would translate into a faster return to health.
Ayaz Rahman, MD, Emory University Division of Cardiology
The effects of fresh versus older RBC transfusions in subjects with cardiovascular disease.
Studies suggest that the outcomes of patients receiving transfusions of red blood cells, or RBCs, are worse when older units of RBCs are used (e.g., greater than 14 days) and in high volume. Rahman and colleagues are studying whether the storage of RBCs for durations of time approved by the Food and Drug Administration, in conjunction with certain cardiovascular risk factors in patients, results in illness and death in some patients. This research could improve patient care by helping to distinguish between patients who can be safely transfused with older units of RBCs and those who require fresher units.
Rahima Zennadi, PhD, Duke University Medical Center
Regulation by nitric oxide of sickle red cell adhesion.
Sickle cell disease is the most common genetic blood disorder in the world. One of its characteristics is the blockage of blood vessels by sickle-shaped RBCs. Although RBC transfusion has often been used as a therapy for patients with the disease, studies have shown that stored normal RBCs are deficient in nitric oxide, a compound that helps regulate the dilation and constriction of blood vessels. Zennadi and colleagues are investigating whether raising the levels of nitric oxide in stored RBCs would help unblock blood vessels in the setting of vaso-occlusion in sickle cell disease.
About 2010 Scientific Research Grant Applications
NBF is currently accepting scientific research grant applications. Grant applications are available on the NBF Web page (www.aabb.org/nbf), or by contacting NBF at +1.301.215.6552 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications must be received by December 30, 2009. Grant awards will be announced in June 2010. NBF, a program of AABB that was established in 1983, is dedicated to advancing transfusion medicine, cellular therapies, and blood banking by funding scientific research that benefits patients and donors.
Established in 1947, AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks) is an international, not-for-profit association dedicated to the advancement of science and the practice of transfusion medicine and related biological therapies. The association is committed to improving health by developing and delivering standards, accreditation and educational programs and services to optimize patient and donor care and safety. AABB membership consists of approximately 1,800 institutions and 8,000 individuals, including physicians, scientists, administrators, medical technologists, nurses, researchers, blood donor recruiters and public relations personnel. Members are located in all 50 states and 80 countries.