Introducing The Blood Project

Featuring Helen Osborne and William Aird

William C. Aird is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a practicing hematologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He spent 20 years of his career directing a research program aimed towards understanding the mechanisms of endothelial cell heterogeneity. He was the founding Chairman of the Gordon Conference on “Endothelial cells in health and disease” in 2004, which continues to be held biannually. He published a 1900-page book on Endothelial Biomedicine (Cambridge University Press) in 2007, which highlighted the endothelium as a clinically relevant organ system. Since then, he has turned his focus to the blood, with the goal of bringing this liquid organ to life for medical trainees and professionals, as well as the general public alike.

In this podcast, William Aird talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Why The Blood Project was created
  • What makes us human, and therefore better doctors
  • A new way of thinking about blood, with critical thinking and humanities in center of medicine.
  • Patient wishes and values

Music by Skilsel from Pixabay.


Helen Osborne: Welcome to Talking about Blood, a new podcast series from something called The Blood Project. I’m Helen Osborne, host of this podcast series and member of the advisory board for The Blood Project. I also produce and host my own podcast series Health Literacy Out Loud.

Today I am talking with Dr. William, or Bill Aird, who is a practicing hematologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Bill is also the founder of an important new resource for medical professionals, called The Blood Project, or otherwise known as TBP. I am delighted that Bill decided to have podcasts be a part of this project and honored to interview Bill as the very first guest on Talking about Blood. Welcome!

Bill Aird: Thank you Helen. I am very happy to be here and I’m delighted that you are hosting this important podcast series. I’m quite familiar with your work in the health literacy field, and especially with your work in your podcast series. They’re absolutely fantastic podcasts and I’m delighted and happy and honored to have you as part of our group.

Helen Osborne: Well thank you, I guess it’s a mutual admiration society and congratulations on the launch of The Blood Project. I know that you and others have been working long and hard to make this happen. So let’s take it from the top. What is The Blood Project?

Bill Aird: So The Blood Project is a project or organization that at this point centers around a website that is about all things blood.

Helen Osborne: Ok. All things blood. So you have a website that’s about all things blood. That’s big. That’s a big topic. Widdle this down just a little bit. What are the components of this website?

Bill Aird: Right, so our components of blood white cells and platelets and red cells and plasma. The components of the website by analogy are a series of eLearning platforms for the learner, in addition to a section on humanities, which includes essays and poems, and all sorts of other goodies.

Helen Osborne: So you have eLearning, and you have humanities and essays, and it’s all about blood. Who is this for?

Bill Aird: We are primarily, at least at the time of launch, targeting medical students, physicians in training, for example interns and residents and fellows, in addition to practicing physicians, both hematologists and non hematologists.

Helen Osborne: So certainly those who are hematologists like you have been doing this a long time. You already know a bunch about blood. I sure hope that you do. What can they be learning more? What can this website offer them that they may not already have from book learning?

Bill Aird: It’s a very good question, and it’s a question that we have struggled with as we have built this website. What we are offering is a new way of thinking about the blood. For example, how can we improve critical thinking and how can we incorporate the humanities into medicine? And there are very few resources at this point that actually approach hematology, or in fact any other discipline, from that angle.

Helen Osborne: Can you give me an example of what do you mean by critical thinking? Just tell me a story there. What would that mean in someone’s practice, whether they’re just learning about medicine or they’ve been doing it for a while.

Bill Aird: Right, so what I have noticed in the last several years is a shift towards evidence-based medicine whereby physicians essentially follow a cookbook of guideline recommendations when they are treating or diagnosing a patient, without really thinking about the underlying cause of the disease or the pathophysiology of the disease. What critical thinking does is it establishes a framework, a pathophysiological framework on which trainees or practicing physicians can hang a thousand otherwise arbitrary facts and build on that, so that when they are seeing the patient can actually individualize patient care when the evidence doesn’t quite fit that individual.

Helen Osborne: Oh, ok so you call it critical thinking. I might have thought of it as only just creativity: being able to put things together in a way that wasn’t quite what you expected.

Bill Aird: That’s absolutely right.

Helen Osborne: So you see that people might be able to use this in their practice. In their learning and in their practice. What about the role of humanities? I know from all our advisory board meetings you are very excited about the stories and the poems, and the history. How would that help somebody in their day-to-day work?

Bill Aird: I think that one of the problems or challenges, or limitations of evidence-based medicine, and don’t get me wrong, evidence-based medicine is extremely important for many reasons. But one of the limitations is when you’re sitting in front of a patient… how do you extrapolate from all of the data and recommendations that come through the evidence-based medicine avenues. How do you translate that to the individual patient? The clinical trials that underpin evidence-based medicine include hundreds of patients. And they typically exclude patients that have comorbidities, that is other types of diseases. Your patient in front of you may have five different types of diseases, so it’s very difficult to extrapolate those data to that individual. So when you bring in the humanities, you start to understand the patient’s wishes and values.

Helen Osborne: Ok, so when I think of humanities I think of it as a discipline like literature and art. You’re also using that word to talk about what makes us human.

Bill Aird: That’s correct, and when we talk about the individual components of our humanities section for example poems. Poems ask us to think and most of us when we are ill want a doctor who is prepared to think. That is one example. If we open our minds and read some fiction related to blood, I strongly believe that makes us better doctors, rather than the robotic type of behavior that is now called on on the part of physicians in this era of evidence-based medicine.

Helen Osborne: Bill, I have been working with you for quite a while on this project, and being part of the advisory board doing my piece of the project too. I know that there are other components too. You mentioned eLearning. I know you have smears of what blood looks like, and all the other components to it there. There’s that part of the website also, correct?

Bill Aird: In fact, the website really revolves around the eLearning component. The humanities of course it’s important, and it’s highly, in our opinion, highly novel, in a way of improving patient care. The eLearning component has many many subcomponents. You mentioned one of them, peripheral smears. We also have a huge data bank of quizzes. We have frequently asked questions. We have case studies. And we have eLearning microcourses which are much more in depth approaches to hematological, or blood topics. Blood-related topics.

Helen Osborne: You know what’s neat about this as you and I have gotten to know each other and you talked about my work in health literacy. Health literacy means communicating in ways that people can understand. It sounds to me Bill as though this website is aiming to do the same for professionals dealing with blood. There are ways for them to learn in whatever ways they can understand. This podcast, this audio, is one component if I can use that term. You also got the formal eLearning and the humanities, and critical thinking. You’ve got many different ways to be focusing on all things about blood. Now I’m going to ask you – this is the beginning of this project. This has promises to be a great roaring success. What would success look like for you?

Bill Aird: Success for us would look like the adoption of this website as a go to resource for physicians and physicians and trainees when they are wanting to understand more about the blood. That’s our primary goal and that’s an international goal. We want to reach out to everybody across the world that has a potential interest in the blood. We want to draw them in and we want to have them explore the site like a kid in a candy shop. That’s how I see it. There is so much there and it is all strategically placed to capture the user and to invite feedback and response from the user to continually improve this resource.

Helen Osborne: I can hear your excitement, like you’re a kid in the candy store.

Bill Aird: I am, I am

Helen Osborne: You are. You are passionate about blood. You are passionate about The Blood Project. This is so exciting. Please tell everyone again, what is the website where they can go and see for themselves.

Bill Aird: Sure, it’s

Helen Osborne: Perfect. Thank you so much Bill for sharing what’s on The Blood Project, explaining about it, and more than that, spreading your excitement about that in all these many ways. Thank you for being our first ever guest on Talking about Blood.

Bill Aird: Thanks so much Helen.