ATI Undergraduate Summer Student Award 2022

The Alberta Transplant Institute is pleased to announce the awardees of three undergraduate research studentships for Summer 2022. These annual awards, administered in coordination with Alberta Innovates and the University of Alberta, allow undergraduate students the opportunity to undertake a summer research project in the laboratory of an ATI member. Two awards in all areas of donation and transplantation research were made possible with the support of Paladin Labs Inc, and a third specific to lung transplantation through the Jamie Fleming Summer Studentship Award. 



Ivy Fixsen

Project title: Molecular characterization of microvascular inflammation in early post-transplant renal allograft biopsies

(Studentship Sponsored by Paladin Labs Inc.)

Supervisor: Dr. Benjamin Adam

Please provide a short abstract of your project funded by ATI summer studentship.
In cases of end-stage renal disease, kidney transplants often save lives. However, the long-term success of these operations can be complicated by a process known as antibody-mediated rejection, or AMBR. In these cases, the human immune system produces donor-specific antibodies which attack the transplanted organ. In other transplant patients, kidney biopsies show histological features that are indicative of ABMR but have no donor specificity, which raises the potential issue of nonspecific AMBR caused by perioperative ischemia. This project aims to better understand the molecular characteristics of DSA-negative AMBR in early post-transplantation biopsies through gene analysis using NanoString nCounter technology.
How has the support from the Alberta Transplant Institute helped you succeed in your research?
As this is my first research project, I am grateful to the Alberta Transplant Institute for the guidance they’ve provided. Additionally, I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to meet other award recipients and members of the scientific research community through summer student mixers and lecture events.
How would you describe your research project in plain language for a public audience?
The focus of my project is to understand the molecular characteristics of transplant rejection, specifically in kidneys. By learning more about the specific antibodies involved in kidney rejection, it will be easier to diagnose and treat. Additionally, tissue inflammation occurring after the transplant may have similarities in the clinical presentation and appearance, but these will no longer be misdiagnosed as acute transplant rejection.



Stefan Iordache

Project title: Characterization of Patients with Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension in Alberta

(Studentship sponsored by Jamie Fleming Summer Studentship Award)

Supervisor: Dr. Rhea Varughese

Please provide a short abstract of your project funded by ATI summer studentship.
My project analyzes Albertan pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) and chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH) patients while contributing to the Canadian Pulmonary Hypertension Registry (CPHR). This study looks at consenting adult PAH and CTEPH patients that are followed by the pulmonary hypertension (PH) clinics in Edmonton and Calgary. Data is collected from electronic health records and paper charts. Descriptive statistics and survival analysis will be performed to understand this patient population. We expect to understand the demographics of PAH and CTEPH patients in Alberta, what medications they use for their lung disease, how many are referred for lung transplantation, and their mortality. We anticipate that our results will be similar to Canadian and international data. This information will be used to understand the needs of Albertan PH patients, leading to quality improvement and future research.
How has the support from the Alberta Transplant Institute helped you succeed in your research?
The Alberta Transplant Institute (ATI) has provided generous support for the enhancement of my research. I am very grateful for the funding provided by the Alberta Transplant Institute, whose generosity and kindness has served as encouragement for my efforts as a student in the Faculty of Science, as well as excelling in my research throughout the summer. Through their support they have lightened my financial burden, allowing me to focus on research and get the most out of my student experience at the University of Alberta. I am able to develop as a person and obtain experience in research. With the ATI’s support I can focus solely on my studies, allowing me the wonderful opportunity of performing research all summer, which helps other people and broadens my knowledge and understanding of different concepts. It is very rewarding to grow personally, to have a new understanding of myself and ultimately be able to help others through my work. By being able to perform research I have the opportunity to connect with other faculty and student researchers, get hands-on experience in the research field and learn valuable skills: professionalism, time management, multi-tasking, online research tools. Through this project I have gained a deeper understanding of the scientific process, developed research questions, formed, and tested hypotheses, learned to productively communicate my ideas, and reported findings. Ultimately this project allows me to pursue my interests in the medical field, learn something new, sharpen my problem-solving skills and will challenge myself in new ways. Thank you ATI for your support, and for providing me with the opportunity to achieve beyond my expectations.
How would you describe your research project in plain language for a public audience?
My research project is about pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) and chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH). These are rare diseases that affect the pulmonary arteries and arterioles, leading to shortness of breath, functional limitation, right heart failure, and eventual death. As the prevalence of PAH is 22 cases per 100000 individuals and CTEPH is 12 cases per 100000 individuals, characterizing these diseases is challenging. To improve research and care, a Canadian Pulmonary Hypertension Registry (CPHR) was created with pulmonary hypertension (PH) programs across the country contributing. Through my research I will describe the Alberta PAH and CTEPH population from Calgary and Edmonton PH clinics.

The objective of the project is to build the Edmonton PH Clinic’s contribution to the CPHR and describe the demographics, disease severity, therapy, and mortality of the PAH and CTEPH populations in Alberta. Adults patients that give consent and have PAH or CTEPH that are followed by the Edmonton and Calgary Pulmonary Hypertension Clinics will be analyzed. These patients’ charts will be reviewed, obtaining data from paper charts, the local pulmonary hypertension database, E-clinician, and/or Connectcare to build the Edmonton portion of the CPHR, including demographics, investigations contributing to diagnosis, symptoms, medication therapy, lung transplant listing and transplantation, and survival. It is anticipated that PAH patients will need progressive medication therapy over time, leading to lung transplantation or death, while the survival of CTEPH patients is dependent on whether they receive a specific type of surgery known as a pulmonary endarterectomy. The expectation is that survival in both diseases will be similar to other published PAH and CTEPH populations internationally. The data collected will ensure Edmonton’s participation in the CPHR, providing the foundation for future data collection. Edmonton is an important part of this national initiative. Through this project, we can develop a better understanding of Alberta’s PAH and CTEPH populations to assist in further research and possible quality improvement initiatives. A key benefit being that we will provide information to improve the process of lung transplantation in this population.

Abigail Ackroyd

Project title: Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of the Multidisciplinary Support To Access living donor Kidney Transplant (MuST AKT)

(Studentship sponsored by Paladin Labs Inc.)

Supervisor: Dr. Soroush Shojai

Please provide a short abstract of your project funded by ATI summer studentship.
The optimal treatment for patients with chronic kidney disease is living donor kidney transplantation (LDKT); however, many patients express difficulty communicating about LDKT. The Multidisciplinary Support to Access living donor Kidney Transplant (MuST AKT) intervention was developed to address these challenges and increase LDKT in Alberta. A pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) was conducted to evaluate the efficacy, feasibility, and acceptability of the MuST AKT intervention. Evaluation includes descriptive statistics of session attendance and facilitator checklists to determine intervention feasibility, which will be used to inform the revision of the MuST AKT intervention to be tested in a definitive RCT.
How has the support from the Alberta Transplant Institute helped you succeed in your research?
The support from the Alberta Transplant Institute has allowed me to continue developing essential skills that will be critical in my career advancement in the scientific field. I have been able to enhance my written communication skills with continued opportunity to contribute to analytical reports and journal articles. I have progressed my teamwork skills with continuous communication and collaboration with other team members on a variety of tasks. Presenting reports and other material during team meetings has elevated my ability to deliver engaging and informative presentations. Additionally, I have gained invaluable experience that has allowed me to identify areas of interest that I could potentially pursue as a career.
How would you describe your research project in plain language for a public audience?
People living with kidney failure have two main treatment options; kidney transplantation and dialysis. Transplantation from a living donor is the best treatment option as it offers longer survival, a better quality of life, and savings to the healthcare system when compared to dialysis. Within the Alberta health care system, there is a great need for donor kidneys to address the increase in kidney failure. In order to increase the number of living donations, the MuST AKT program teaches, encourages, and supports both the potential recipient and their social network. The MuST AKT program guides recipients through many of the challenges that come with finding a living donor. Addressing these challenges gives the recipient confidence when initiating conversations about living kidney donation without asking the question directly. Providing recipients with valuable tools and resources helps them create and share their story with their broader social network.