Lori West

Pediatric cardiologist. Transplant trailblazer. Visionary leader.

Shelby Soke - 17 October 2017

Lori West transformed pediatric heart transplants with the discovery that transplanting hearts from donors with mismatched blood groups, which is currently impossible in adults, is safe during early childhood. This scientific breakthrough significantly increased the organ donor pool and dramatically decreased waitlist mortality. The practice is now routine at pediatric transplant centres worldwide.

West is now tackling transplant rejection and the negative side-effects of immunosuppressive drugs. Her team discovered that the thymus, an organ that is routinely discarded during pediatric cardiac surgeries, is a rich source of stable and long-lived therapeutic regulatory T cells (Tregs).

"You get more Tregs from one single thymus than you could get in the entire circulating blood volume of an adult," said West. "This is not a rare resource. This is a tissue that is currently thrown away. You could estimate easily that there are tens of thousands of thymuses discarded worldwide every year."

The Treg cells could be used to suppress the rejection of transplanted organs, minimizing the use of anti-rejection drugs.

In August 2016, West received the 2016 Woman Leader in Transplantation Award at the 26th International Congress of the Transplantation Society in Hong Kong. West was peer-elected for her outstanding achievements with the induction as a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada in November 2017, honouring her remarkable contributions in the sciences, as well as in Canadian public life.