Recently appointed Director of the Liver Transplant Program, Dr. Elmar Jaeckel, talked about the latest research to advance tolerance in transplant recipients. (Video: UHN)

"Wow! Wow! Wow!" said Dr. Shahid Husain in awe, at the end of the inaugural Ajmera Transplant Centre Research Day at UHN.

Dr. Husain, Research Director of the Centre, and the 200 attendees were all very impressed to see cutting-edge presentations from basic science and clinical research produced by their colleagues.

"This conference is a real testament to the breadth and the depth of research that we do at the Ajmera Transplant Centre," said Dr. Husain. "The quality of the scientific presentations and lectures today has been phenomenal.

"I've been to conferences all over the world, and I would say we are on par or even better in some stances."

Dr. Elmar Jaeckel, recently appointed Director of the Liver Transplant Program, delivered the opening keynote speech talking about the "holy grail quest" for tolerance in the field of transplantation – an international decades-long effort to find ways to reduce immunosuppressing therapies and medications that transplant recipients need to accept the new organ.

"To advance research around tolerance means less medication, lower risk of cancer, of infection, and therefore a better quality of life for our patients," Dr. Jaeckel explained after his talk.

"This event brought together fantastic basic science and translational clinical research. This is the best way to ensure innovations reach our patients and improve their lives after transplantation."

"It is a really important skill as a researcher to learn to distill your years of training and research into a short digestible presentation," Dr. Cynthia Tsien, Education Director at the Ajmera Transplant Centre, told the inaugural Ajmera Transplant Centre Research Day. (Photo: ETMS, UHN)

The conference had presentations from researchers and clinicians with the Ajmera Transplant Centre, as well as a state-of-the-art lecture with guest speaker Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin from University of Maryland. He presented on a world-first cardiac xenotransplant, in which a pig's heart was transplanted in a man in January – a case that captured international attention.

According to Dr. Atul Humar, the Director of the Ajmera Transplant Centre, the event was incredibly successful and the plan is to have it become an annual conference.

"I'm very pleased to see the world-class level of research presented here and quality of the lectures," says Dr. Humar. "These encounters allow us to continue to do what we do best, which is to bring together basic and clinical research, and advance quicker translation of research findings to patient care."

Education impact

The inaugural Ajmera Transplant Centre Research Day was hosted in a hybrid format on May 27, allowing participants to join in person as well as virtually. A total of 88 scientific abstracts were submitted and eight of them were accepted for presentation – half of them on basic science and the other half on clinical research.

There were presentations about gene editing prior to transplant, islet cell transplantation, the use of living-donor versus deceased-donor organs in liver transplantation, the efficacy of vaccination against COVID-19 in transplant patients, among many impactful research projects.

Dr. Javier Tomas Solera Rallo, Transplant Infections Disease Fellow, received the clinical abstract award, for his presentation on the impact of vaccination and early monoclonal antibody therapy to prevent and treat COVID on transplant recipients.

Sajad Moshkelgosha received the basic science award, for his presentation about a tool to measure T-cell alloreactivity.

 
Dr. Lisa Wickerson, a physiotherapist and clinician investigator at the Toronto Lung Tranplant Program, led research comparing in-person and virtual rehabilitation. (Video: UHN)

The event also had a poster competition. The best poster award went to Emanuel Nogueira for his poster on a strategy to reduce injury to liver grafts using ex vivo perfusion.

Dr. Cynthia Tsien, Education Director at the Centre, echoed the compliments to the quality of research presented at the conference. She said it was a very important moment for fellows and trainees, as they had a chance to present in-person after over two years of a hiatus in such events because of the COVID pandemic.

"It is a really important skill as a researcher to learn to distill your years of training and research into a short digestible presentation, and to an audience who is not necessarily in your field," she said.

Bringing different disciplines together

A cornerstone of the Ajmera Transplant Centre is bringing together a talented and multidisciplinary team. For that reason, the conference had a full section dedicated to allied health and nursing-led research.

There were presentations about advances in non-invasive alternatives to post-transplant heart biopsies, infection prediction models for kidney transplant recipients, and risk benchmarking for transplant outcomes.

Dr. Lisa Wickerson, a physiotherapist and clinician investigator at the Toronto Lung Tranplant Program, presented her work comparing in-person and virtual rehabilitation sessions which became more common during the pandemic.

"Looking at the results of our study, we want to go forward using a new hybrid model of in-person and home rehabilitation," she explained, adding it was a pleasure to present to colleagues in different disciplines and programs at the Ajmera Transplant Centre.

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