Science for the wounded
The work of Dr. Armand Frappier
Processing of the human dried serum
At the Institute of Microbiology, under the supervision of Dr. Jean Tassé, the Human Serum Desiccation Service brought together many areas of production, each one being a key step in the processing of dried serum. Thanks to the volunteers of the Canadian Red Cross Society, the process began with preliminary steps related to blood donations: preparation of sterile supplies required during blood donations (such as glass bottles), their expedition to the various Red Cross clinics and finally the return of bottled blood at the Institute of Microbiology.
After coagulation of the blood, serum can be separated from the plasma (the liquid part of blood) and blood cells (white cells, red cells and platelets) by means of centrifugation. The serum thus obtained from several donors was then mixed together and tested to ensure its sterility.
Next, the same serum was filtered, purified and detoxified to remove any remaining bacteria. Once again, sterility tests were performed. Only then, the serum could be transformed into its final dehydrated form. This phase began by bottling the serum and checking again for its sterility. The bottles, which were destined for the transfusion of the wounded, were frozen at low temperature (- 40 °C).
At this stage, frozen serum could be stored for later use, or it could be dried using lyophilization or freeze-drying. A final round of sterility and toxicity tests was performed on dried serum before labelling and packing the bottles in wooden crates, along with all the necessary transfusion equipment. During the same process, additional crates were filled with bottles of sterilized water, which was used to reconstitute the serum to be transfused to the wounded. Dried human serum was then ready to be shipped to Allied forces on the battlefields.
The Human Serum Desiccation Service of the IMHUM
The Human Serum Desiccation Service was managed by Dr. Frappier and Jean Tassé and initially acted as a serum separation centre on behalf of the Connaught Laboratories. Thanks to continuous improvements and observation of various methods used in some American laboratories and at the Connaught Laboratories, Dr. Frappier and his team started to handle, by March 1944, the complete production of dried serum, processing blood donations collected by the Canadian Red Cross. Indeed, the first drying of human serum, conducted in Montreal, took place on March 29, 1944.
This was made possible by the dedication, and hard work of the experts from the Institute of Microbiology. They standardized serum processing methods and worked day and night, alongside with volunteers from the Canadian Red Cross Society to increase their production. With their help, the Serum Desiccation Service shipped tens of thousands bottles of dried serum in more than 2,000 crates. Also, this would not have been possible without blood donors who massively contributed to the national blood donation program. Thanks to their generosity, more than two million blood donations were collected across Canada during the war. Their heroic gesture helped produce hundreds of thousands of bottles of dried serum that saved the lives of thousands of Canadian and Allied soldiers.
At the end of the war, all the facilities and equipment of the Human Serum Desiccation Service were donated to the Institute of Microbiology by the federal authorities. The unit that was once dedicated to the war effort headed towards serum fractionation, of which proteins such as gamma globulin were involved in the prevention of some diseases such as poliomyelitis and measles. The service was also employed to freeze-dry vaccines and antibiotics like penicillin, on behalf of pharmaceutical companies.