Each year, one out of every 70 Americans receives a blood transfusion. With the help of preservatives, the shelf life of red blood cells is more than a month. Yet there is an active debate whether fresher blood is a better choice for certain patients.
Israeli researcher Dr. Rinat Abramovitch contributed critical information to this debate last year with her groundbreaking study proving that stored donor blood actually harms the liver.
Recently, Abramovitch received two major grants to investigate whether bleeding and further blood resuscitation affects the liver’s natural capacity to regenerate, and how this happens. “If you understand the mechanism, you can improve it,” Abramovitch tells ISRAEL21c.
She won one of only two €60,000 three-year research grants awarded in 2014 by the European Society of Anaesthesiology, as well as an additional three-year grant from Israel’s Ministry of Health. These funds will be put to good use in her lab at the Goldyne Savad Institute of Gene Therapy at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Abramovitch, 48, prefers to gear her research toward practical solutions rather than abstract theories.
“It is worth doing research about medical mysteries; something that can help people,” she says. “That is what gives me motivation.”
Over the past 13 years, eight graduate students have worked in her lab with sophisticated imaging modalities to find answers to medical conundrums involving tumors and new therapies.
“It’s a matter of opening your ears to hear the problems physicians are talking about,” says Abramovitch, who also is a senior lecturer at the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Medicine.
Novel findings about the liver
In this case, the study resulted from discussions with her former Hadassah colleague, Dr. Idit Matot, now head of the Anesthesia, Pain and Intensive Care Division and the Surgery Division at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.
Matot told her that in surgeries to remove a tumor from the liver, there is often massive bleeding, necessitating a blood transfusion. “The real question is whether this stored blood is good or bad for these patients.”
Abramovitch and her team devised a study where they removed half of the liver from lab rats. The control group was not given a blood transfusion. A second group received seven-day-old blood and the third group received fresh red blood cells. They monitored the groups to see how the different approaches affected the liver’s ability to regenerate, a process that takes only about a week in rodents and slightly longer in humans.
“When we started to compare the process of liver regeneration, our first insight was that bleeding delays the regeneration process and so it is important to administer blood. We then compared fresh versus stored blood, and showed that while fresh blood is helpful, blood stored for too long can be harmful.”
Over the following year, Abramovitch’s lab began investigating the genetic and cellular mechanism responsible for this phenomenon. The Israeli group is collaborating with scientists in Bonn, Germany.
The results thus far were so promising that the European grant was awarded to Abramovitch in Stockholm last May at the annual Euroanesthesia congress.
Mosaics for the soul
Due to the novel lines of research she pursues, Abramovitch often participates in international conferences and collaborations.
She tells ISRAEL21c that her first interest was chemistry, and she earned her bachelor’s degree from Tel Aviv University in that subject. Later, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) caught her fancy, and she earned her doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science on how to use this noninvasive technology to assess angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels in tumors.
She did two years of postdoctoral research at Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer before joining Hadassah. Her previous studies on aspects of liver regeneration appeared in the journals Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Genes & Development, Radiology and Hepatology.
Abramovitch lives in the central city of Modi’in, but grew up on Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in the south, Israel’s largest producer of honey. Her parents still live on the kibbutz.
She gets up at 5 in the morning to start her workday early and get home in time to spend the afternoon with her children. Her husband, a businessman, handles the morning routine with their 10-year-old son and their daughter, a senior in high school. They also have a son currently serving in the navy.
She also finds time for fitness and recently began taking classes in mosaic-making with her daughter. This is, she says, “a hobby for my soul.”