Research Donor Program Needs Your Help to Advance Cancer and AIDS Research

By Ashley DeVine, Staff Writer; photos by Richard Frederickson, Staff Photographer
See caption for details.

Patricia Claude, Occupational Health Services, discusses the Research Donor Program with Veron Ramsuran, a researcher in the Basic Science Program who is interested in using samples from program donors. 

NCI at Frederick employees have a unique opportunity to contribute directly to cancer and AIDS research by donating blood, saliva, and other samples through the Research Donor Program (RDP). Donors are compensated for their time, which is typically between 10 and 30 minutes.

The RDP, which is administered by Occupational Health Services (OHS), Leidos Biomedical Research, provides samples from healthy donors for use in in vitro research conducted at NCI at Frederick and Fort Detrick. Samples are provided anonymously to researchers.

“Without the program, researchers would be forced to procure materials from vendors at great expense, and, in many cases, the necessary samples are not available commercially,” said Janelle Cortner, Ph.D., program manager, Center for Cancer Research Office of the Director, and administrator of the RDP. She said the most common uses for samples are for assay development and normal controls for experimental samples.

Program Is Vital to Researchers

Nazzarena Labo, M.D., a scientist in the Viral Oncology Section, AIDS and Cancer Virus Program, has used samples from the RDP to study immunity to Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV). KSHV can cause certain cancers in individuals with HIV or other immunodeficiencies, and in people living in particular areas of the world, she said.

In a recent PloS Pathogen paper, Labo and colleagues studied the antibody responses of healthy donors and those with KSHV-associated cancers to nearly all proteins produced by KSHV. Labo said this study was the first to look at the complete antigenic profile of the virus.

“We are continuing to study immune responses to KSHV, with the aim of understanding why and how immune responses fail to the point that cancer develops in certain patients. To do so, we will need to go back again to our healthy donors from the RDP for comparison,” Labo said.

Veron Ramsuran, Ph.D., a researcher in the Basic Science Program, is currently using samples from the RDP to study the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system. By measuring the expression levels of HLA immune genes, researchers can apply the results to several disease cohorts, including HIV, hepatitis B and C viruses, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Because this type of study requires a large number of individuals in order to draw significant conclusions, Ramsuran turned to the RDP for samples.

“There is currently no study that examines the allele-specific variation with [HLA class II] genes,” he said. “Since there are several alleles within a particular HLA gene, utilizing a large cohort will allow us to confidently predict the expression levels for a certain allele.”

Ramsuran said the RDP is vital to his research. “Unlike other donors programs, like the blood bank, the RDP allows us to test genetic information on individuals, and, if needed, specific donors can be recalled to follow up on findings,” he said.

OHS currently has 241 donors enrolled in the program, with a goal of reaching 500 donors, according to Sarah Hooper, manager of OHS. “The more diverse the donor pool, the more beneficial it is to the research,” she said.

A recent survey of principal investigators who use the RDP also indicated that they would like to see more diversity in the donor pool, Hooper noted.

How to Become a Donor or Request Samples

It takes 10 to 30 minutes to donate to the program, and donors are compensated for their time and, if applicable, having their blood drawn. Compensation ranges from $20 to $45, depending on the sample volume. Donors provide samples at OHS in Building 426. Additionally, for a limited time, those who refer new donors to the RDP will receive a backpack chair.

If you are concerned about time away from work, Hooper noted that OHS strives to be flexible in meeting the scheduling needs of donors.

Researchers who are interested in receiving samples through the program will begin by submitting a memo of request through the RDP website. All requests are reviewed by Cortner.

For more information on the RDP, visit the website or call OHS at 301-846-1096.

Occupational Health Services is currently giving away backpack chairs, like the one shown above, to employees who refer new donors to the Research Donor Program.