Biography of Marcela Contreras Arriagada, a Chilean doctor. She is internationally recognized for her ability to organize blood services through scientific work.
Dr. Contreras is an expert in Hematology and Immunology, and a Chilean-British university professor.
Professional importance of Dr. Marcela Contreras
She is currently a professor of Transfusion Medicine at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London. She is also President of the International Society for Blood Transfusion.
In January 2008, she was appointed President of the “National Commission of Blood and Tissues of the Ministry of Health of Chile”.
Her work in the UK for 37 years has been of tremendous significance. So much so that on November 28, 2007, Queen Elizabeth II of England named her “Lady Commander of the British Empire”.
It was the first time that this title was conferred on a Chilean woman.
Marcela Contreras is executive director of the “International Society of Blood Transfusions” (BTI). This volunteer organization assesses the management of blood banks and transfusions in developing countries.
Early years of this extraordinary scientist
Marcela Contreras Arriagada was born on January 3, 1942, in Coelemu, a town in the province of Itata, in the Ñuble Region, in Chile.
Her father, Eduardo Contreras Trabucco, was a doctor who dedicated his entire professional professional life to serving the inhabitants of this commune; her mother, Mireya Arriagada, was mayor of Curicó.
Much of Marcela’s childhood was spent in Coelemu.
She attended high school in one of the most prestigious private schools in Santiago de Chile, the “Santiago College“. At this school, all teaching was in English.
In 1961, Marcela Contreras entered the School of Medicine of the University of Chile. Seven years later, in 1968, she graduated as a medical-surgeon.
During the years of study, her interest had focused on immunology and hematology. She developed her final thesis in immunology.
The University of Chile has always prided itself on preparing with excellence the professionals who leave their classrooms.
A very strong hallmark of this institution is that, in addition to scientific and intellectual training, it instills social solidarity.
Beginnings of her medical career
While studying, Marcela Contreras received a scholarship to work under the wing of prominent geneticists.
This is how she met Gustavo Hoecker and Pablo Rubinstein, a scientist who ran the blood bank of the José Joaquín Aguirre Hospital.
When Pablo Rubinstein moved to the United States, Marcela Contreras succeeded him in office.
In 1972, Marcela Contreras obtained a grant from the British Council to specialize in hematology and clinical transfusion in the United Kingdom.
It was an excellent professional opportunity that served to get away from the instability that was being experienced in Chile, at that time.
She moved with her husband and two children to London, where she has lived for 37 years.
Dr. Marcela Contreras speaks five languages and with arduous effort achieved a prominent position among the English.
Between 1972 and 1987, she carried out an intense and productive work that has been recognized worldwide.
Marcela Contreras’ activities in Great Britain
For more than 20 years, from 1987 to March 2007, she worked as a transfusion medicine consultant for the London National Blood Service (NBS).
In 1992, she was appointed by the Department of Health to head the commission that was to transform English blood services into a true National Blood Service.
Within the work of this Commission, Marcela Contreras promoted the creation of the National Blood Bank of England. Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers it a reference model.
Her work focused on the unification of guidelines for the extraction, processing and use of blood.
In addition, a barcode system was established to store donor data and thus streamline the handling of donated blood.
Thanks to the work of this Commission and the political decision to have an excellent quality system, Marcela Contreras managed to ensure that England had a sufficient supply of blood throughout the country.
The Blood Bank focused on the availability of plasma and platelets, with 85% of volunteer donors, who come to a regional center twice a year to have their blood drawn.
This Blood Bank of England is considered a reference model by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The importance of her medical work
Marcela Contreras was eventually appointed National Director of the UK National Blood Service (NBS).
The position included responsibilities directly related to patients:
(1) Red blood cell immunohematology: 10 reference laboratories and the reference laboratory of the international blood group;
(2) stem cells and immunotherapy: 7 laboratories and the spinal cord blood bank;
(3) Histocompatibility and immunogenetics: 7 laboratories and the British Bone Marrow Registry.
Other activities of this remarkable Chilean woman
Dr. Contreras is a principal member of the Network for Progress in Alternatives to Transfusions. She is also editor of the TATM magazine.
In addition, she is a member of the Council of Netcord, the international network for the management of blood banks. Netcord is also responsible for coordinating spinal cord blood transplants.
Since 2007, Marcela Contreras also chairs the “National Blood and Tissue Commission of the Chilean Ministry of Health”.
The main objective of this Commission is to consolidate and centralize services, improve the quality of care and increase voluntary blood donation.
Her privileged intelligence and her remarkable capacity for work have been reflected in more than 370 scientific publications.
She is also the co-author of numerous technical books.
She has received numerous invitations from over 40 countries to lecture. These differences are due to the importance of her knowledge and experiences. In addition, she has a great capacity for communication.
In 1992, Dr. Contreras joined the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.
She also joined the Royal College of Pathologists in 1997; and the Royal College of Physicians in London in 1998.
Honors in recognition of her extraordinary work
In 2003, she was chosen to join the Academy of Medical Sciences. She is also a visiting professor at the University of the West of England.
And recently she was invited to join the Chilean Academy of Medicine.
The list of awards, decorations and medals she has received since 1990 is very long. It is a demonstration of the gratitude that she has earned throughout her generous professional life.
Probably, one of the prizes that has most moved her is the tribute paid by the University of Chile, her Alma Mater, on April 30, 2009.
The solemn ceremony was held in the Hall of Honor of the Central House.
The highest authorities met that day to honor Dr. Marcela Contreras.
It was a fair recognition of her relevant academic merits. The University of Chile praised her national and international scientific work in the study of hematology.
Chilean authorities reward their distinguished compatriot
The Rector, Dr. Jorge Las Heras, presided over the event, and he awarded Dr. Marcela Contreras Arriagada, a graduate of the University of Chile, with the highest distinction awarded by the House: “Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Chile“.
At the same time, he presented her with the “Doctor Eloísa Díaz Medal” awarded by the Faculty of Medicine.
The Rector’s heartfelt words magnificently expressed the feelings of all those gathered at the ceremony: “I share with those present the honor and satisfaction of having Dr. Marcela Contreras as an ambassador for the University of Chile in the world“.
He added that “the great achievements made by the distinguished doctor, in the creation of a national blood service in England, and by the tireless effort to reproduce these positive results in developing countries, will probably be remembered throughout history of medicine“.
The University of Chile published this interview on its website, from March 2017.
Many websites provide information about Marcela Contreras. Two of them are: “Economy and Business” and “Medical News, Universidad de Chile“.
The prestigious doctor Contreras shares admiration among Chileans, with five other Chilean women who have stood out notably worldwide: Gabriela Mistral, Violeta Parra, Adriana Valdés, Marlene Ahrens and the astronomer María Teresa Ruiz.