Stephen Withers receives 2020 Innovation to Commercialization award

Awards and recognition

Stephen Withers receives 2020 Innovation to Commercialization (I2C) program award

Congratulations to Dr. Stephen Withers for receiving a 2020 Innovation to Commercialization (I2C) Program Award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR). This annual MSFHR program provides funding to health researchers to help advance their discoveries and inventions towards practical application of health care products and technology. The projects receiving funding aim to improve health outcomes, enrich the health innovation ecosystem in B.C., strengthen the knowledge economy and build capacity for translational research across the province. 

Dr. Withers’ funding award will assist in his research focusing on using new technologies and processes that act on A and B blood types to generate ‘Universal Donor’ O type blood, which is often found in short supply. 

Project Title: New Enzymes And Processes For The Removal Of Cell Surface Antigens From Red Blood Cells To Generate ‘Universal Donor’ O Type Blood For Transfusion 

Project Abstract: Human blood comes in four major “types” — A, B, AB and O — which differ in the sugars on their red blood cells (RBCs). Correctly matching blood types before transfusions is essential to avoid immune responses that can be fatal. O type blood is known as a universal donor since RBCs from an O type person can be transfused into A, B, AB or O type individuals without harm. It is used in emergencies when there is no time to type the patient or the correct type is unavailable. Type O blood is often in short supply. 
A and B type blood can be converted to universal O type blood by using specific enzymes to clip off the extra sugars: once clipped the original sugars are not reformed since mature RBCs have lost that ability. However, the enzymes available have not been efficient enough. The Withers lab recently discovered efficient enzymes for this within the human gut microbiome. In conjunction with the Centre for Blood Research, they have proven their efficiency and converted whole units of blood. This proposal is primarily to carry out the pre-clinical evaluations needed, and in conjunction with Canadian Blood Services, move this technology forward. This will open up access to universal donor blood, thereby helping alleviate shortages. 

Nine researchers were awarded funding during the 2020 I2C program, five of them from UBC.  

Lori Brotto, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Faculty of Medicine 
eSense: an online psychological intervention for women’s health 
Research location: VGH 

Robert Holt, Department of Medical Genetics, Faculty of Medicine 
Development and application of comprehensive T-cell receptor reactivity profiling technologies to aid in the discovery of novel immune cell therapies 
Research location: BC Cancer Research Centre 

Mark Martinez, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Faculty of Applied Science 
3D printing of hydrogel tubing via reactive hydrodynamic focusing to replace single-use plastic medical tubing 
Research location: UBC 

Catherine Poh, Faculty of Dentistry 
Cytology-based DNA measurement for oral cancer screening 
Research location: BC Cancer Research Centre 

Stephen Withers, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science 
New enzymes and processes for the removal of cell surface antigens from red blood cells to generate ‘universal donor’ O type blood for transfusion 
Research location: Michael Smith Labs (UBC), Centre for Blood Research 

View the full list of the 2020 I2C recipients here>> 

The Michael Smith Laboratories extends its heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Withers and all the UBC researchers receiving this year’s MSFHR Innovation to Commercialization (I2C) Program Award! We look forward to supporting their research and impactful contributions to B.C.’s health innovation ecosystem. 


Red blood cell image: allinonemovie from Pixabay