By engaging an extended network of partners, Canadian Blood Services’ research sparks discovery, informs the development of new products and processes, contributes to the sharing of knowledge, and guides best practices for the care of patients and donors connected to Canada’s lifeline. A multidisciplinary Research Ethics Board (REB) reviews all research applications involving human participants that are intended to be conducted by, or on behalf of, Canadian Blood Services. This includes research that proposes the use of personal information, like data about the donor pool, or biologics, like collected whole blood. The REB evaluates research applications and acts as a resource to support Canadian Blood Services in maintaining ethical integrity in its research activities.
The REB is currently seeking a volunteer to contribute in one of its two Researcher Member roles. On the REB, members work together with the REB Chair and researchers to ensure that the rights and welfare of participants in research studies are adequately protected, and that the benefits of the research justify any potential risks. Researcher Members contribute to the REB by sharing their knowledge and expertise on the methodology of proposed research and the content area. Through this role, individuals with subject matter expertise in biomedical research can play a significant role in advancing health research in the fields of transfusion, organs and tissues transplantation, and hematopoietic stem cells transplantation.
Having contributed to the REB as a Volunteer Researcher Member since 2011, Dr. Lois Shepherd, a Senior Investigator with Canadian Cancer Trials Group and a Professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at Queen's University, shares her reflections on the role and its impact.
The reasons were quite multifaceted! First, I’m a hematopathologist, a scientist that deals in blood malignancies and benign hematological disease. When I completed my hematopathology fellowship with the University of Ottawa, I spent time training at Canadian Blood Services (though it was known as the Canadian Red Cross at the time). Being familiar with the national blood system and the national blood manufacturer was part of the curriculum and it grew my interest in transfusion medicine. During this training, I spent three months learning how the system worked, from the administrative aspect to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of collecting, processing and issuing blood, and the various types of blood components used. For a very brief period, I even did physicals for plasma donors!
The other part of my experience has been with clinical research and clinical trials and while this gave me knowledge of what it was like to submit research applications, I was always curious about Research Ethics Boards and their considerations. When I had the opportunity to join this board, I was looking forward to gaining that experience.
In my time contributing to the REB, I would typically review applications using my medical background and expertise to focus on what the research science means.
The REB has a variety of expertise represented including two Researcher Members. Our Researcher Member roles are to help sort through some of the complexities of the applications in terms of understanding the actual science. Currently both of us have a fair bit of experience in clinical trials, and while I have more of a laboratory background, the other researcher has more of a clinical or direct patient care background, so we complement each other in terms of understanding details of the applications and sharing with the other members of the board during reviews.
I think the diligence and the rigour of this REB process is well known to most, if not all, researchers that apply for access to Canadian Blood Services products or data, and I think that means the applications are much stronger. People really respect the fact that the questions and challenges being raised by the REB are to protect the stakeholders who, in large part, are volunteer donors that have chosen to give to the Canadian blood system for the betterment of their fellow Canadians. I think the REB with Canadian Blood Services operates in a way that raises valid questions and I think the rigour and the diligence pays off for everybody involved.
The fact that you’re always learning new things. In terms of an enriching experience, it’s really quite sobering to see the depth and breadth of questions that are brought forward to this REB in active research proposals. People are always looking for new information, looking to better the system, or the product, or the science, and that’s one of the more enriching aspects of the job because it provides a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on across the country in terms of research.
It’s been really interesting to see how the ethics and regulatory world has changed and evolved – especially in terms of the evolution of technology and science but also around data and confidentiality. It makes it challenging year after year to keep up with, but it’s also been a tremendously collegial group to work with. You see people’s strengths working together on this board and the respect everyone has for others’ perspectives lets you get to know people at a different level that forms friendships.
To anyone thinking about this role or who has been accepted into the position, I encourage them to enjoy the experience. Serving in this role is a commitment of time and you do have to have the bandwidth to do it justice, but don’t be intimidated by anything that might seem new or unknown.
The Canadian Blood Services staff that support the REB and the people on the board are fantastic resources. Enjoy the opportunity to expand your knowledge and learn together – that will enrich the experience for you.
For more information on the Canadian Blood Services Research Ethics Program, go to Canadian Blood Services Research Ethics Board.
Applications for the Volunteer Researcher Member role are being accepted now. To learn more about this role and the application process, visit Volunteer Researcher Member | Canadian Blood Services.
Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation
Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact.
The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.