Transplant Research Newsletter – Fall 2015

Message From The Chair

Welcome to the first edition of our new quarterly Newsletter. Fall always seems to be a great time for new beginnings and it very much feels that way here at TRF! Our exciting new partnership with VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation is up and running. Long in the planning, this partnership brings both added resources to TRF and allows us to significantly lower our administrative costs. This has put TRF in a very good position to focus on our mission of supporting transplant research in BC and, as we move into fall, one of our goals is to bring the message of the importance of transplant research to more people in the transplant community.

This Newsletter is part of this effort. Organ donation is a cause near and dear to every transplant recipient’s heart (sometimes literally), but people don’t always recognize the important link between organ donation and research. In this edition, we draw this link and discuss how research is critical to the cause of increasing both organ donation and organs that are available for donation.

Also new is our redesigned website, and please do take a look! You’ll see a big improvement in both the look and, more importantly, the information available on TRF and the research you support.

As we continue to work to connect with more transplant recipients and their families, you can help by sharing this newsletter with others who you know will be interested. As always, we would love to hear from you. If you would like to get more involved with TRF or donate to support transplant research please check out our website (

– Lori Lothian, Chair

Meet Our Board

Kristoffer Gurlesky
Lori Lothian
Guy Lapierre
Mike McKenna
Dr. Rob McMaster
Dr. Alice Mui
John Wiens
Colin Yip
Elaine Yong

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As far back as the early 1900s, scientists believed in the possibility of organ transplantation, but they didn’t achieve success until 1954 with a kidney transplant. At that time, six months was the definition of success. Now the average kidney transplant lasts 15 to 20 years, a dramatic shift that has only been possible because of research.

That’s why we think you should care about the work we do at the TRF. We know research is the answer and it’s the only way to ensure we keep pushing the definition of success. This is why we established the Venture Grants program. Through this program, the TRF funds innovative BC based research on issues related to organ transplantation.

For our inaugural issue, we wanted to shine our spotlight on how research is working to increase both organ donation rates and the number of organs that are available for transplant, and how these different streams of research have the potential to help resolve the critical issue of transplant wait times.

In our 2015-2016 Venture grants competition, both grant winners have projects that focus on these issues. One project, led by Dr. John Gill (Associate Professor, Division of Nephrology at UBC
and clinician scientist in Nephrology at St. Paul’s Hospital) is examining how to eliminate barriers to organ donation registration in Canada by getting health care providers to discuss organ donation with patients during routine health encounters. The second project, led by Dr. Chris Nguan (Associate Professor, Department of Urological Sciences at UBC and Surgical Head of Kidney Transplantation at Vancouver General Hospital), looks to find a new source for kidneys by taking smaller portions of disease-free discarded kidneys and devising surgical techniques to reassemble them into a whole functioning organ for transplantation.

We know these issues are critically important to study.

In 2014, 246 Canadians died waiting for organ transplants. Currently, there are more than 500 British Columbians waiting for an organ transplant and more than 4500 people nationwide.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), one third of Canadians that require a transplant will never receive one. The wait for a transplant can be anywhere from a few months to several years, depending on a variety of factors. While many Canadians have registered to donate their organs, Canada is behind many countries when it comes to organ donation. Only about one per cent of Canadians who die in a hospital donate an organ. This is approximately 15 people per million, which is about half the rate of many countries including the United States and Portugal. It’s not that we don’t believe in organ donation.

Ninety per cent of Canadians support organ donation, yet less than one in four has registered. The numbers are even worse in British Columbia, with only one in five people actually registered! Are you registered? Register today at

The wait for a suitable organ can be even longer for Canadians of different ethnic backgrounds due to differences in the distribution of blood types and lower organ donor rates. Compatible blood types and tissue markers, which are critical for donor/recipient matching, are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity. Therefore a broader diversity of donors can potentially increase access to transplantation for everyone and research like Dr. Gill’s work may provide some solutions to the frustrating problem of low donor rates.

The answer, however, does not simply lie in organ donor registration. Researchers are working hard to find ways to increase the number of organs available for transplant. This is where Dr. Nguan’s work is so important. If researchers can develop new sources of organs available for transplant then waiting lists and times for transplant would dramatically decrease.

Organ donation is socially and medically complex. But that is even more reason to keep pressing forward with research, according to one of BC’s top transplant doctors, Dr. Eric Yoshida. He says, “The success of solid organ transplantation has saved countless lives in BC over the past 29 years but none of this would have happened without the insight and innovation provided by research. Transplantation, like all areas of medicine, remains far from perfect. We need the research mission to continue in order to bridge the gap between our current reality and our hopes, dreams and expectations.”

With your help, the TRF can help redefine success in transplantation and ensure a better future for people facing organ failure. Please donate today (

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