While the program’s goals are ambitious, effective teamwork and collaboration have so far yielded excellent results. 

Collaboration is the cornerstone of the CNTRP’s ethos. The program has a number of varied, but related objectives, all of which coalesce towards the improvement of transplant patient care. Dr. Lori West is Director of the CNTRP and describes some of the program’s objectives and projects.

“The CNTRP links together three areas that were never linked before in any national program; solid organ transplantation, hematopoietic cell transplantation, and the donation and critical care communities. So what the CNTRP has done is to create the opportunity for these three different groups to work together. Through that linkage we expect to be able to transform the landscape of transplantation and donation research not only in Canada, but internationally,” says Dr. West.

“We also engage in several projects that help to improve things like public awareness and increased organ and tissue donation.” 

Immune monitoring

One of the program’s major early accomplishments is the successful trial of a national standardization of immune system monitoring. Dr. Megan Levings is Professor of Surgery at the University of British Columbia and explains the benefit of a standard model of immune monitoring. “We wanted to do this because most of the side effects of having a transplant are related to malfunctioning immune responses.

The immune system tries to reject a foreign organ in the same way it tries to reject a virus or bacteria. So, by having a test that can allow us to measure the activity of white blood cells against transplanted cells or tissues we will be better able to monitor the health of the patient, and design drug treatments to make the procedure better.”

"We expect to be able to transform the landscape of transplantation and donation research not only in Canada, but internationally."

Dr. Levings and her team conducted a monitoring experiment using blood samples collected at four different locations across Canada and achieved detailed and consistent results with all samples, an impossibility using standard complete blood count (CBC) monitoring.

The ability to get consistent results in different centres, with different people, and at different times, means that researchers and clinicians will have larger and more accurate data sets to draw on. The experiment was made possible thanks to two key collaborations; the first, with medical devices company Beckman Coulter, and the second with the ONE Study, a consortium of European and American kidney transplant researchers studying survival of donated organs. 

Flow Cytometry

Dr. Jeannine Holden is Director of Scientific Affairs, Flow Cytometry, at Beckman Coulter and explains the development of this specialized technique. “Flow cytometry was a technology invented by immunologists for basic research but it’s only been the last twenty years that it’s made a transition into the clinical research and clinical laboratory settings,” says Dr. Holden.

“The ONE Study researchers in Europe wanted to use flow cytometry to look at the immune cell populations, but they knew that different centres had different techniques that might obscure significant findings.  So they worked with us to develop a methodology that could be used across different institutions.”

Thanks to the collaboration with Beckman Coulter, and drawing on the experience of the ONE Study, the CNTRP achieved excellent results in an astonishingly fast time frame. From conception to completion, the study took just over four months.

While there is still much work to do in the area, it is hoped that the advances made using flow cytometry will mark an equivalent advance in patient care and outcomes, one on which the CNTRP will no doubt hope to improve.