Canadian Blood Services scientist invents potential alternative for high-demand blood product

May 23, 2006

Toronto, ON- Patients suffering from a life-threatening bleeding disorder are closer to having access to a more effective treatment. Alan Lazarus, Canadian Blood Services scientist and adjunct scientist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, is deciphering how a blood-derived product called IVIg (intravenous immunoglobulin) currently works, and as a result has developed a synthetic replacement product that shows promise in laboratory testing. This synthetic could be the stepping stone to replacing IVIg which is used to treat a variety of conditions, including ITP (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura), a disease that can cause uncontrolled bleeding, and sometimes even death.

As will be published in the June edition of the scientific journal Nature Medicine, Lazarus' research team has made great strides in determining how IVIg works, a major milestone in the study of this product. They have also found evidence that a synthetic replacement for IVIg could be developed that would not only be cheaper and easier to produce in mass quantities, but could also lead to more effective treatments for patients. Lazarus says, "this work unravels some of the mystery surrounding how IVIg functions in patients with ITP, and will allow us to develop new and more powerful therapeutics in the future. In addition, this discovery should allow for a more consistent product with less side-effects than the IVIg currently in use." ITP is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to send signals to the spleen to remove platelets from the body. Many patients with ITP rely on frequent transfusions of IVIg in order to prevent bleeding. "Patients suffering with ITP require IVIg to prevent or control bleeding, but we don't know how it works. Dr. Lazarus' research finding brings us one step closer to understanding how we can develop better treatments for these patients, and how best to use this treatment in patients with other autoimmune disorders, not only ITP," says Dr. Heather Hume, Executive Director of Transfusion Medicine at Canadian Blood Services.

Patients like Liliane Keryluk in Ottawa have relied on IVIg for treatment. She has suffered from ITP, and is very hopeful that new, more effective and safer treatments may be developed as a result of Dr. Lazarus' research. "While I understand that this research is still in early stages, I am very excited that an important step forward has been made in the treatment of my disease, and for the thousands of others who also suffer from ITP," says Liliane. Canadian hospitals currently spend approximately $130 million on IVIg every year, for the treatment of various diseases, including ITP. This plasma-derived blood component, manufactured and distributed by Canadian Blood Services, is in limited supply and is a major expense for the blood system. Cost-savings aside, switching to a synthetic replacement product would also be a major benefit to the Canadian blood system, as it would free-up a large quantity of plasma making it more readily available for use in other treatments.
Lazarus' team's research is made possible in part thanks to funding received from the Canadian Institute for Health Research. The next step in his research studies will be to move on to clinical trials as he continues making strides in understanding how IVIg works. He is a scientist with Canadian Blood Services and an adjunct scientist with St. Michael's Hospital, as well as an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

Attn Editors: High resolution stock photos are available of Dr. Lazarus in the laboratory.

Dr. Lazarus' article in Nature Medicine can be viewed online at using the DOI (10.1038/Nm1416)

About Canadian Blood Services
Canadian Blood Services is a national, not-for-profit charitable organization that manages the blood supply in all provinces and territories outside of Quebec and oversees the country's Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry. A dedicated team of about 4,500 staff and 17,000 volunteers enable us to operate 41 permanent collection sites and more than 19,000 donor clinics annually. Canadian Blood Services is a non-governmental organization, however the Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Health provide operational funding, and the federal government, through Health Canada, is responsible for regulating the blood system. For more information, please visit

About St. Michael's Hospital
St. Michael's Hospital is a Catholic teaching and research hospital, fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, specializing in heart and vascular disease, inner city health, trauma/neurosurgery, diabetes comprehensive care, minimal access therapeutics, and neurological and mobility disorders. In addition to being a world-renowned research and academic center, St. Michael's Hospital remains one of the world's best-known symbols for leading, innovative and compassionate patient care. By launching the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Centre in Health Care Education, St. Michael's Hospital is raising the bar as a prominent influencer in the provision of excellent patient care, research and education. For more information, please visit

Media contacts:
Shannon O'Brien
Communications Specialist, R&D
Canadian Blood Services
Tel: (613) 739-2442
Cel: (613) 558-1990

David Davenport
Media Relations
St. Michael's Hospital
Tel: (416) 864-6094

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