For Immediate Release

July 23, 2019

Media Contact

AABB Communications
Magda Yang

AABB’s National Blood Foundation Announces 2019 Early-Career Grant Recipients

The grants will fund innovative research in transfusion medicine and cellular therapies.

Bethesda, Md. – AABB’s National Blood Foundation (NBF) announced today the names of the six researchers who will be receiving NBF early-career grants in 2019. Delfim Duarte, MD, PhD; Saba Ghassemi, PhD; Marie Hollenhorst, MD, PhD; Tiffany Thomas, PhD; Francesca Vinchi, PhD; and Yan Zheng, MD, PhD, will each receive a grant of up to $75,000 to further a one- or two-year research project.

“The National Blood Foundation, through its Scientific Research Grants Program, has promoted early-career research in the fields of transfusion medicine and cellular therapies for more than three decades,” said Jeanne Hendrickson, MD, chair of the NBF Scientific Research Grants Review Committee. “NBF is proud to support this new group of early-career investigators as they advance research that will help shape future therapies and treatments.”

The title and scope of each recipients’ research project is described below.

Delfim Duarte, MD, PhD
Instituto de Biologia Molecular e Celular (IBMC)
Porto, Portugal

Project Title: "Targeting the Bone Marrow Vascular Microenvironment to Improve Hematopoietic Stem Cell Therapies in Acute Myeloid Leukemia"

Summary of Proposed Research:
Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation remains the only curative treatment for most cases of refractory/relapsed acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Endosteal blood vessels maintain HSCs. Duarte’s research has recently identified a specific remodeling/decay of endosteal blood vessels in AML. He now aims to specifically target the BM vascular microenvironment in AML and in this way improve HSC engraftment, promote cell competition and eliminate AML cells, ultimately leading to improved disease outcomes.

Saba Ghassemi, PhD
Pathology and Lab Medicine
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA

Project Title: "Redirecting Quiescent T cells with Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARs) for Adoptive Immunotherapy"

Summary of Proposed Research:
Chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) provide a promising approach to redirect T cell specificity against cancer. Activation of the T cell receptor (TCR) is a prerequisite for effective CAR transduction. TCR activation promotes progressive differentiation which limits CAR T cell engraftment and persistence. Ghassemi’s research focuses on transducing quiescent T cells. Her goal is to determine how CAR co-stimulation and T cell composition influences efficacy when quiescent T cells are used as therapy.

Marie Hollenhorst, MD, PhD
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Project Title: "CMP-Neu5Ac: A Central Molecule in Bleeding Diseases and Mediator of a Novel Platelet Effector Function"

Summary of Proposed Research:
Platelets are critical to the pathogenesis of some of the most important causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, including hemorrhage, heart attack, and stroke. The aim of Hollenhorst’s research is to understand how a sugar molecule called CMP-Neu5Ac is made and how it is used to regulate platelet number and function. This work will illuminate fundamental aspects of platelet biology and will pave the way for development of effective therapies for bleeding and clotting disorders.

Tiffany Thomas, PhD
Department of Pathology and Cell Biology
Columbia University Medical Center
New York, NY

Project Title: "The Effect of Dietary Lipids on Red Cell Lifespan and Recovery"

Summary of Proposed Research:
Thomas’s underlying hypothesis is that increasing dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) up to a threshold improves RBC lifespan and post-transfusion recovery (PTR); but, increasing omega-3 PUFAs above this threshold decreases quality. The inflection point will be a function of oxidative stress and antioxidant capacity. As such, conditions of elevated oxidative stress will lower the observed fish oil dose associated with this inflection point due to increased lipid peroxidation, resulting in decreased endogenous RBC lifespan and PTR.

Francesca Vinchi, PhD
Iron Research Laboratory
New York Blood Center
New York, NY

Project Title: "Role of Heme-Activated Macrophages in Acute Chest Syndrome"

Summary of Proposed Research:
Vinchi’s project focuses on the role of heme-activated macrophages in the pathophysiology of acute chest syndrome (ACS), a major complication of sickle cell disease. She hypothesizes that by mediating lung macrophage inflammatory phenotypic switching, heme promotes ACS and exacerbates symptoms in response to infections/fat emboli. Using mouse models, Vinchi will investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying ACS and whether transfusion and novel cellular therapies can mitigate the syndrome.

Yan Zheng, MD, PhD
St. Jude Children's Hospital
Memphis, TN

Project Title: "Comprehensive Characterization of RH Loci by Whole Genome Sequencing and Long-read Genome Sequencing"

Summary of Proposed Research:
RHD and RHCE genes exhibit extensive nucleotide polymorphism and genetic rearrangements, resulting in the formation of Rh variant antigens. Therefore, sickle cell patients harboring Rh variants are predisposed to Rh alloimmunization despite receiving serologic Rh antigen-matched blood. Zheng’s research aims to develop novel approaches to more accurately and comprehensively characterize the RH loci using whole-genome sequencing and long-read sequencing data.

More information about the Early-Career Scientific Research Grants Program is available on the NBF web page.

About The National Blood Foundation

AABB’s National Blood Foundation (NBF), established in 1983, serves the fields of transfusion medicine and cellular therapies through grant making, educational offerings and industry leadership engagement and recognition.

About AABB

AABB is an international, not-for-profit association representing individuals and institutions involved in the fields of transfusion medicine and biotherapies. The association is committed to improving health through the development and delivery of standards, accreditation and educational programs that focus on optimizing patient and donor care and safety. AABB membership includes physicians, nurses, scientists, researchers, administrators, medical technologists and other health care providers. AABB members are located in more than 80 countries and AABB accredits institutions in more than 50 countries.