Vitalant Research Institute’s Brian Custer, PhD, MPH inducted into Hall of Fame


Vitalant Research Institute is pleased to announce that one of our lead investigators and vice president of research and scientific programs, Dr. Brian Custer, is being inducted into the National Blood Foundation’s (NBF) Hall of Fame.
NBF introduced its Hall of Fame in 2007 recognizing a prestigious and select group of NBF grant recipients who leveraged their early-career grant funding into successful careers in transfusion medicine, cellular therapies, or patient blood management and who demonstrated exemplary leadership within the field.

Dr. Custer’s vision and leadership are recognized within VRI and we are honored it is also being applauded externally among thought leadership groups, scientists, peers and partners in the field. As a side note – Dr. Custer is the THIRD investigator and scientist working with VRI to be inducted into the NBF Hall of Fame!

We asked Dr. Custer to Take Five and answer some questions for us regarding his work and the needs within the blood industry.

Just before your induction on Monday, October 21 – you’re giving a presentation! In a nutshell, what’s the scope of your talk entitled “Detection of Anti-Retroviral Therapy Use in U.S. Blood Donors?”
We will present recent findings from the Transfusion Transmissible Infections Monitoring Systems (TTIMS) on blood donation samples that were tested for evidence of antiretroviral therapy use. (This is therapy used to suppress a retro virus, in this case the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). One part of the results will focus on use of antiretroviral therapies in blood donors whose donations tested HIV-positive. The second part of the results will focus on blood donations that tested negative for infections for which we test in the U.S., but for which additional testing for pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs used to prevent HIV infection was conducted.

All of this is meant to continue to understand how to create the safest blood supply for patients and donors.

What are you most excited about when you think of the work being done at Vitalant Research Institute?
Vitalant Research Institute continues to be one of the key groups of thought leaders on a range of topics in transfusion medicine (TM) research at a time when the era of big data in TM research has truly arrived. The most exciting part of the research occurring today are the synergies across research disciplines that are allowing us to gain much greater insights into how donor characteristics, processes for component preparations, and also blood recipients themselves all contribute to transfusion outcomes in patients.

Your work with Vitalant Research Institute is directed at understanding infectious diseases and how they are transmitted through blood transfusion. Can you tell us what a typical day is like?
Well to be honest there is no “typical” day for me at Vitalant Research Institute because each day has unexpected opportunities and sometimes challenges. On any given day my work could be focused on writing grant submissions to fund future research projects, meeting with other researchers in the U.S. or internationally on the next steps for research projects. Or I could be reviewing and writing reports and papers on completed research. This dynamic environment provides a lot of stimulation, and time management is always a challenge!

What do you wish the general public knew about voluntary blood donation and its role in a robust health care system?
Published estimates indicate that somewhere between 40% - 70% of people in the United States will require blood or blood products at some point in their lives. Another way of looking at that is someone in the U.S. requires blood approximately every two seconds! Those percentages alone should get the attention of our population and make everyone more aware of the important role blood transfusion and blood donation play in our health care system. The blood supply exists because people voluntarily donate, and all of us at Vitalant and other blood collectors hope that the needs of patients will be met by donors who reflect the diversity of America.

What keeps you awake at night when you think about the needs of our industry?
To truly make transfusion as safe and efficacious as possible for all patients who need blood, we need to understand a lot more than we do right now – because we are now looking at the molecular level –PRECISION transfusion medicine. The necessity to maintain the safety and adequacy of the blood supply are the central themes of the research I conduct. There are cycles of different kinds of concerns that come and go. Right now, as an industry, we need to renew our efforts to understand what motivates donors to be life-long contributors to our nation’s blood supply.

Dr. Custer will receive his award recognition in front of industry peers and partners at the AABB Annual Meeting on October 21, 2019. Congratulations!