Team aims to preserve organs by freezing them

    Interdisciplinary efforts boost abilities to cryopreserve and bank organs and tissues to save and improve lives

    By Mifi Purvis on February 3, 2017

    (EDMONTON) This year, the Extreme Cryo Symposium (January 27–28 at the U of A) celebrated a milestone 15th meeting. An interdisciplinary effort, Extreme Cryo meets almost every year and offers research groups the opportunity to share expert perspectives in such broad areas as biopreservation and technologies that allow better use of cells, tissues and organs for clinical transplantation and regenerative medicine and research.

    “Our university is a strong centre for cryobiology,” says Janet Elliott, professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering and a Canada Research Chair in Thermodynamics. “And the symposium, which is organized by graduate students and staff, offers our students and researchers the opportunity to work alongside other disciplines. It’s a real cross-pollination of ideas.”

    Led by Elliott and professors in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry (Jason Acker, Locksley McGann and Nadr Jomha), the U of A’s cryobiology expertise lies in the study of biology at low temperatures. It impacts research, reproductive technology, transplantation of articular cartilage, cornea storage and much more.

    “As far as tissue transplant goes, we have an interest in matching supply with demand,” Elliott says, explaining that many viable tissues and organs go to waste because there is such a small window of opportunity for transplantation. If too much time passes after a donor’s death, tissue starts to degenerate. Sometimes, it’s a matter of hours, and transplant teams must race the clock. Cryopreservation offers the possibility to extend the viability of organs and tissues, meaning more patients benefit from transplantation, which saves lives and improves the quality of life for many more.

    The theme of the symposium is different every year and this year nearly a dozen experts presented the latest information, research and policy news about cell, tissue and organ preservation to more than 40 participants. The three keynote speakers were the U of A’s Lori West, director of the Alberta Transplant Institute, Jedd Lewis of the Organ Preservation Alliance in the United States, and Edmond Young from the University of Toronto.

    West delivered a presentation about immunomodulation and organ transplant, offering her latest findings—and new hope—that researchers are working to create universal transplantation, beyond blood-group matching. Lewis addressed the current and potential impact of cryopreservation on human health. His group, the Organ Preservation Alliance, works with scientific leaders and other stakeholders to make preservation research a common priority, connecting experts in relevant fields and helping guide efforts to support preservation research. Young presented on the engineering of microfluidic tissue models for cancer and lung research.

    The theme of Extreme Cryo 2018 is still unknown, but Elliott says the symposium gets better every year.