Elizabeth Benner, Health, Medicine & Veterinary Sciences editor
Many Canadians are familiar with the Canadian Blood Services (CBS), a Canadian healthcare charity associated with blood drives around the country (except Quebec). You may know about the CBS because you have donated blood or recognize its catchphrase “It’s in you to give” from their TV commercials.
But the importance of the CBS stretches beyond blood drives. It also facilitates plasma, stem cell, and organ and tissue donations, and provides opportunities to do research, development, and innovation on the formulation of blood and related biological products.
The CBS co-sponsors a competition that allows young scientists to flex their science writing muscles. CBS, the Centre for Blood Research at the University of British Columbia, and Science Borealis host and judge entries to the Canadian Blood Services Lay Science Writing Competition, an annual contest that offers $300 for first prize.
Aditi Khandelwal, an MD and specialist in Internal Medicine and Adult Hematology who is completing a fellowship in transfusion medicine through one of the Canadian Blood Services Competitive Training Funding Programs, placed first in this year’s competition. Talking about her motivation for entering the competition, she says, “As a clinician and researcher, I often have opportunities to talk about the science aspect of my research. However, there are rare avenues to discuss personal motivation and drive behind choosing to do the research. This competition allowed me to talk about my research in a way I have never done before.”
Writing about science for a general audience is very different from the technical writing that researchers do in their daily jobs. Normally, they are writing for an audience familiar with their field of work. For a general audience, researchers have to filter out jargon and include personal stories that are relevant to everyday people.
Dr. Khandelwal’s research focuses on TACO-BEL, the cheekily named clinical trials for the blood transfusion drug Lasix. She opens her entry with a story about how one of her family members benefited from the use of Lasix, which helped to minimize the risk of complications after a blood transfusion:
I witnessed a fellow physician attempting to get my grandmother’s permission for a blood transfusion. I found myself torn between being a compliant family member and a physician, trying not to be too critical of my well-meaning colleagues. I realized that the discussion never mentioned a risk for Transfusion-associated cardiac overload (TACO)…I asked if the prescribing doctor could use a medication called Lasix. Experts recommend the use of Lasix to help the blood vessels adjust to the sudden increase in the volume of fluid as well as help remove extra fluid. The doctors caring for my grandmother agreed with my suggestions.
Dr. Khandelwal believes that research is a process that should include the public as well as scientists. “Our research is intended to benefit everyone. Hence, being able to reach out to the lay audience … the main beneficiary of our research is extremely important,” she says. “This allows opening a conversation between those of us who are motivated to improve our current standard of care and the individuals who can guide us.”
Being able to effectively communicate knowledge and research practices is important. Physicians often find themselves explaining complicated medical research and treatments to their patients. Researchers in all disciplines need to be able to explain the importance of their work to funding agencies, students, and policy-makers. Dr. Khandelwal’s ability to communicate with her colleagues may have saved her grandmother’s life. Her ability to effectively inform the general public about the possible risks of blood transfusions may save many more.
Dr. Khandelwal values the opportunity to participate in the competition. She says, “Sharing my work and interests allows me to make new connections with others who have similar interests and spark new ideas. I am thankful for the opportunity to share the work I am doing with others.“
Read more about the 2019-2020 Canadian Blood Services Lay Science Writing Competition>
Are you interested in entering your story in next year’s competition? You are eligible if you are participating in these Canadian Blood Service Funding and Fellowship Programs. A full list of eligibility requirements is available on the contest website.
Banner image by Dr. Catherine Dubé, used with permission.