Biotechnology partnership transforms safety in blood donation processing

Université Laval collaboration with Waters Corporation and Quebec’s Phytronix applies machine learning to blood sample analysis

From there, new protocols for screening and handling blood products were enacted to prevent the spread of these diseases through blood donation programs.

Over 30 years later, infectious diseases such as Zika and West Nile virus pose new challenges for the safety of blood donation around the world; however, a partnership between a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Université Laval, Quebec-based Phytronix, and international biotechnology firm Waters Corporation could revolutionize screening technology for donated blood products.

Existing screening techniques can only test a small number of blood samples at a time, and results are usually available within hours. However, blood samples have a brief shelf life following donation, meaning every minute lost during sample screening affects the process.

The Laval teamThe new technology will pair Phytronix’s proprietary laser-based analysis technology and Waters’ mass spectrometer to screen thousands of samples in minutes. The ULaval research team will then apply machine learning algorithms to analyze the samples for potential contamination. The project builds on collaborative efforts between several fields: medical genomics, computer engineering, and advanced mathematics. Although the research is in its infancy, the resulting system could have the potential to vastly improve processing times for blood products on a global scale.

The collaboration also holds great potential for the partners. As a Quebec-based firm, Phytronix is scaling up its technology for global markets by tapping into Waters’ expertise and networks. At the same time, Waters is gaining new insights into machine learning, courtesy of the ULaval researchers.

The project came together through Mitacs’ Converge program — a new initiative designed to pair university researchers and small- and medium-sized enterprises in Canada with multinational corporations through R&D supply chains. Following an initial proof-of-concept between Université Laval and Phytronix, the Mitacs team was able to attract interest from Waters Corporation to combine the expertise of all three partners into the latest collaboration.

For Jacques Corbeil, principal investigator from ULaval, the project presents an exciting opportunity: “We have worked with both companies towards this mutually beneficial goal. Each partner is bringing a unique skill set to create something much bigger than we could on our own.

“It’s also important that this project is helping a small Canadian company — Phytronix — to build up their expertise into a new market. We are grateful that Mitacs Converge is able to support this type of collaboration so that together we can have an impact on business and research in Canada; and hopefully one day, have an impact around the world.”


Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Converge research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Converge program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

Photo from left to right: Pier-Luc Plante, Mazid Osseni, François Laviolette, Jacques Corbeil, Mario Marchand, Francis Brochu, and Frédéric Raymond.

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