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Peter J. Newmann, PhD, Vice President of Research Versiti Blood Research Institute

From bench to bed, translating basic and clinical research to help patients in need

Milwaukee – September 30, 2019

Versiti Blood Research Institute supports 40 investigators whose mission it is to research all things blood.


A leader in blood health innovation, the Versiti Blood Research Institute (BRI), Diagnostic Laboratories (DL) and Medical Sciences Institute (MSI) are home to 40 basic, translational and clinical investigators whose work helps patients with blood disorders like hemophilia and sickle cell disease, and blood cancers like leukemia. But what is the difference between these types of research, and why are both so critical to driving medical innovation and discovery?

Types of Research

  • Basic: discovery-focused research that takes place in a laboratory setting
  • Clinical: research that centers on the patient and usually takes place in the clinic or the hospital setting
  • Translational: the connection between basic and clinical research

Of the approximately 60 independent blood centers in the United States, only four perform blood research—and Versiti is the largest of those four, positioning us as a leader in the field. An integral part of the organization, research has been at the core of Versiti’s mission ever since it was established by the Junior League of Milwaukee in 1947. “[Research is] part of our mission and has been since the beginning,” said Versiti Vice President for Research Peter J. Newman, PhD.

With funding from the National Institutes of Health and other prominent organizations and foundations in the form of grants, laboratory-based research (often called basic research) at the BRI involves using models of disease to figure out how things work. For example, what causes platelets to not work as they should? What causes cancer cells to replicate? Beyond blood type, what additional matching is needed to improve blood transfusions for patients around the world? By using a laboratory setting to learn more about how the human body works, researchers have a better chance of developing new insights that may eventually lead to new diagnostic tests and therapies for patients.

There are patients who have certain diseases who wouldn’t get diagnosed or treated anywhere else,” Dr. Newman said. “These grants enable investigators to study blood, its components, diseases and disorders, and make it possible to develop new tests that benefit patients in need of new life-saving treatments.”

But basic research is only one piece of the puzzle. Equally important is research done by physicians in a clinical setting. These physician scientists communicate openly with their patients and apply therapies developed in labs. In turn, these physicians work with basic researchers in the lab to determine which treatments work and which don’t – and, perhaps more importantly, why. The connection between basic and clinical research is often referred to as translational research, and could take the form of a new diagnostic test or a new drug for patients. “The clinical lab at Versiti benefits from that translation,” said Thomas Abshire, MD, executive vice president at the Versiti Medical Sciences Institute.

Versiti Medical Sciences Institute (MSI) was established in 2009 by Versiti (then known as BloodCenter of Wisconsin), and is funded today by Versiti and the Versiti Blood Research Institute Foundation. Dr. Abshire said that MSI receives funding in order to “allow physicians more time to translate the unanswered questions they have asked while seeing patients in the clinic to their colleagues in the laboratory, as well as to mentor these physicians in a culture of research.”

Each clinical researcher at Versiti Blood Research Institute is linked with a basic researcher, which fosters an environment of mutually beneficial knowledge and success. These partnerships could involve anything from learning a new lab test and applying it to a patient, to working on a grant application together. “Without this interaction and this link between basic and clinical research – and translational in the middle – [innovation] just doesn’t happen,” Dr. Abshire said. This approach is key to Versiti Blood Research Institute’s success, which receives the most National Institutes of Health funding out of all blood centers across the United States. “There’s no one that does this to the scope that we do,” Dr. Abshire said.

In fact, Dr. Abshire’s vision when he came to the BRI was to foster these relationships and “create a clinical research network that supports people so that they can learn how to be better researchers,” he said. “We protect them, we mentor them and we support them so that they can be successful.”

Dr. Newman agrees, saying that physicians often see the finished puzzle in the form of a patient. But there is plenty more that clinical researchers can learn from basic researchers, who see each piece of the puzzle individually. “Because we have a lot of physicians and physician scientists, the cross fertilization between them is unique at Versiti,” Dr. Newman said.

Versiti Blood Research Institute is a model for building these partnerships and working together toward a common goal: better outcomes for patients. “Research in medicine is the life foundation of our organization,” Dr. Abshire said.

Thomas Abshire, MD, is executive vice president of Versiti Medical Sciences Institute, chief medical officer at Versiti, and senior investigator at Versiti Blood Research Institute. He also serves as a professor of Pediatrics, Medicine and the CTSI of Southeast Wisconsin at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Peter Newman, PhD, is vice president for research and associate director of Versiti Blood Research Institute. He also serves as a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

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