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To Dream the Impossible Dream
Musing on TM Research | by Pat Letendre
November's blog is based on an abstract from AABB's 2014 meeting in Transfusion. I always read 'Education and Training' abstracts (one of the smaller sections - go figure!), and this one caught my eye:
- A14-030D: Chargé SB, Walsh GM. Bridging the gap: knowledge mobilization and transfusion medicine research. Transfusion 2014 Sept;54(2S):231A.
- 'OMG, not more management bafflegab by Canada's national blood supplier!'
- If there's a new buzzword out there like knowledge mobilization, you can bet CBS management will jump on it.
The blog's title derives from the principal song of the musical 'Man of la Mancha' based on Cervantes' 17th C classic, Don Quixote. I hope that transfusion professionals the world over can relate to the blog's musings on the nature of research.
Here's my version of the CBS research initiative. (Read full abstract for more details)
Why do it?
To transfer knowledge generated by basic and clinical research to those whose work it may affect. Unfortunately, journal publications and conference presentations have limited access.
What did they do?
CBC developed these tools:
- Summaries in plain language of notable publications were published online monthly and aimed at all stakeholders, including donors.
- Knowledge to Munch On: Internal follow-up to major conferences, inc.
- Displays of conference posters
- Distributing an electronic conference report
- Lunch and Learn national webinars highlighting conference presentations.
Summaries in plain language: Between March 2013 and March 2014, 10 Research Units were online and downloaded >1100 times.
Knowledge to Munch On:
- 66 conference presentations were available to staff who couldn't attend conferences
- 3 electronic conference reports were downloaded 747 times in the 3 months after publication
- Lunch and Learn: 8 presentations were attended by 263 staff.
- 96% agreed with, 'This event enhanced my knowledge.'
- 76% felt that the knowledge was applicable to their practice.
The programs' impacts are measurable and need more developing and monitoring to achieve a greater impact.
- Demographics: Who viewed the posters, downloaded the summaries and reports, attended and participated (geographical locale and health profession)?
- When were various components of the program available and accessed? During the work day vs lunch hours, coffee breaks, and after hours at home?
- Plain language summaries of 10 research units downloaded a total of >1100 times over a year is NOT very much.
- Was a Likert 5-point scale used to assess participant feedback? e.g., 96% agreed with, 'This event enhanced my knowledge' and '76% felt that the knowledge was applicable to their practice.'
MUSINGS on RESEARCH
But if you are a front-line transfusion professional, whether lab technologist /biomedical scientist, nurse or physician, you likely do not read papers or attend sessions on basic research, whose titles are often indecipherable. Even applied research gets little readership unless it directly affects us.
- Basic research is wondering if inherited traits might make different groups of people more or less susceptible to the same disease.
- Applied research is trying to develop a screening test for HIV once we know it causes AIDS, and possibly making mega-bucks in the process.
Indeed, I live in a university city where some politicians have long dissed academics as not living in the 'real world'. Anti-intellectualism is popular among populist politicians and a sure vote winner with some.
5. What the public does not see is the stress of researchers:
- Proving their worth annually by winning scarce research funds
- Keeping spirits up in the face of experiments extending for years
- Defending criticism from peers when they publish findings
- Facing condescension by some who perceive them as pampered 'ivory tower' dwellers.
Applied research is all the rage among politicians these days, but basic research rivals it via serendipity.
Hepatitis B kills more than 700,000 people annually. Prevalence is highest in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, where most people become infected during childhood and 5-10% of adults are chronically infected. Vertical transmission from mother to child is common. About half of all cases of hepatocellular carcinoma are attributed to chronic HBV infection.
Today all blood donations are screened for HBV thanks to its discovery by Dr. Baruch S. Blumberg .
In 1976, Dr. Blumberg won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for his discovery of the hepatitis B virus. He and his colleagues discovered the virus in 1967.
But Blumberg began as a medical anthropologist interested in the genetics of disease susceptibility. He wondered if inherited traits might make different groups of people more or less susceptible to the same disease. The research had nil to do with hepatitis.
His research involved using antibodies from multi-transfused hemophiliac patients to test blood samples collected around the world. When an antibody from a New York hemophiliac reacted with an antigen in the blood of an Australian aborigine, they called it the 'Australia antigen', and the serendipitous path to a life-saving discovery was made.
The Au antigen was subsequently found in the serum of many multi-transfused leukemia patients. Was it related to causing leukemia? Then Blumberg's laboratory technologist developed hepatitis B. And ultimately it became clear that the Australian antigen was the hepatitis B surface antigen.
Soon a lab test was developed to screen blood donors and a vaccine was developed.BOTTOM LINES
- Basic research, with unknown outcomes, often trumps applied research, despite applied research being the flavour of the decade.
- A researcher's life is not all roses. Far from it.
- All health professions should get to know each other better, including the researchers who work behind the scenes and whose work can affect us all.
The blog's title derives from the musical, Man of La Mancha, based on Cervantes' Don Quixote, and its song, 'To dream the impossible dream'.
- Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Highly recommended)
- Baruch S. Blumberg
- Baruch Blumberg, who discovered and tackled hepatitis B, dies at 85 (NY Times, 2011)
- Meet Dr. Blumberg (1925 - 2011)
Pat Letendre is the webmaster for the TraQ website of the BC Provincial Blood Coordinating Office in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Pat specializes in developing transfusion-related websites and managing mailing lists for health professionals. She has extensive experience as an educator and clinical instructor.
View Pat's Full Bio
22 Feb 2017