From blood transfusions, to heart surgery, to lung infections,
Dr. Paul Hébert is doing research to improve the way we care for the sickest patients in the hospital.

June 1, 2006

Dr. Paul Hébert treats the sickest patients in The Ottawa Hospital – three of every 10 patients who arrive in the intensive care unit will never recover. Some of these patients have had traumatic injuries, while others may have suffered a heart attack, or be fighting a deadly infection. While Dr. Hébert spends about half of his time trying to heal these patients one-by-one, the other half is spent on critical care research that is helping hundreds of thousands of patients in Ottawa and around the world.

Dr. Paul Hébert holds the Transfusion and Critical Care Research Chair at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the University of Ottawa, and The Ottawa Hospital. By asking questions instead of accepting tradition, his research has already had a big impact. For example, several years ago, Dr. Hébert published a study showing that contrary to long-held dogma, transfusing more blood into critically ill patients does not necessarily result in better outcomes. In fact, he found that patients treated aggressively with transfused blood had a higher death rate than patients whose doctors waited to order a transfusion. A similar trial comparing more versus less blood has recently been completed in critically ill children. Dr. Hébert hypothesized that this may be due to infection-fighting white blood cells (called leukocytes) present in transfused blood. When foreign leukocytes are transfused into critically ill patients, they may begin attacking the patient’s body as well as infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses. In a follow-up study, Dr. Hébert found that indeed, patients who received blood with leukocytes removed fared better than those who received standard blood transfusions. This finding assisted in the evaluation of leukocyte-filtering technology in countries around the world.

Dr. Hébert is currently conducting a number of other clinical trials that could have a big impact on care of the critically ill. An ongoing CIHR-funded trial of 3000 high risk cardiac surgical patients is designed to determine which of three drugs is best able to reduce life-threatening bleeding after heart surgery. A 5000 patient multi-national trial in critically ill patients aims to determine if fresh blood saves lives as compared to old blood. Another trial is comparing two different drugs for treating septic shock, a deadly condition that can occur when an infection overwhelms multiple organs in the body. While many of his studies focus on adult patients, Dr. Hébert is also involved in research on transfusion practices in newborns and in the perioperative setting.

Dr. Hébert’s research is supported by a number of organizations, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Ministry of Health of Ontario, Hema Quebec and Canadian Blood Services.

For more information, see:
• Dr. Hébert’s online profile
• A story about Dr. Hébert in the July 2005 edition of Research Triumphs magazine
• Announcement of the results of Dr. Hébert’s blood filtering trial