Master's student wins top cryobiology award

For the third time in five years, the University of Alberta has claimed the top student award from the International Society for Cryobiology.

Master’s student Ruqayyah Almizraq, working with Jason Acker in the Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, picked up the Peter L. Steponkus Crystal Award for her oral presentation at the society’s international meeting in Argentina.

“It was a shock for me,” said Almizraq who is currently writing her thesis and hopes to defend in October. “I’m so happy and so glad to have won this award. It’s a really prestigious award, which was amazing for me. I saved the best for the end [of her master’s].”

“I think this really reflects the excellence we’re doing in the preservation sciences and cryobiology,” said her supervisor, Acker. “It’s quite an honour.”

Almizraq presented on the effects that a biochemical rejuvenation solution has on stored blood. Donated blood can only be stored for 42 days. For years, scientists have been injecting red blood cells late in the storage process with a biochemical rejuvenation solution thought to improve their membranes. Almizraq’s work shows that this process actually has no benefits for the blood.  

“This work allows for in-depth understanding of red blood cells during preservation and storage and provides insight into the causes of the hypothermic storage lesion,” said Almizraq. “This work will help us in our next approaches to developing an affective preservation for blood products.”

“What we’re really trying to do is enhance the quality of the blood products, so when they are transfused they do what we need them to do,” said Acker. “Right now there is a lot of research that is really focusing on the membrane of the red blood cell, specifically changes that occur to the membrane, as that change is responsible for some negative clinical findings that have been reported over the last few years.”

Acker’s lab is continuing work in this area, including work with nano-fabricated liposomes, which could prove beneficial in the storage process. Almizraq is hoping to complete her PhD in the field.