Each year, Canadian Blood Services’ BloodTechNet award program supports innovative educational projects within the transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation communities that can deliver educational tools and resources to health professionals in Canada. One successful project aimed to facilitate laboratory rotations for directors in-training of histocompatibility and immunogenetics laboratories whose highly specialized expertise in human leukocyte antigen (HLA) testing supports transplant and platelet transfusion activities throughout Canada.
Collaborators on the project included members of the National Human Leukocyte Antigen Advisory Committee (NHLAAC) led by Canadian Blood Services. The NHLAAC engages HLA directors and transplant specialists to improve and standardize laboratory practices in support of organ and tissue donation and transplantation in Canada. When this project application was successfully accepted by the BloodTechNet award program, a special travel bursary called the “NHLAAC Rotation Program – Travel Bursary” was established to support participants to complete a rotation.
To highlight the impact of this innovative Travel Bursary, I spoke with three colleagues who each have their own unique connection to this educational project.
Eric Wagner: As an HLA laboratory director based at CHU de Québec-Université Laval in Québec City and chair of the NHLAAC, Eric is the lead on the BloodTechNet project that established the NHLAAC Rotation Program – Travel Bursary.
Fatima Dharsee: A senior program manager of deceased donation, interprovincial organ sharing and transplantation at Canadian Blood Services, Fatima is one of the collaborators on the BloodTechNet project and manages the NHLAAC.
Ahmad Abu-Khader: As a histocompatibility and immunogenetics fellow at Alberta Precision Laboratories in Calgary, Ahmad is the first recipient of the NHLAAC Rotation Program – Travel Bursary and completed his 4-week-long rotation in Edmonton in January 2022. Ahmad is no stranger to Canadian Blood Services – he completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Canadian Blood Services in Dr. Nicolas Pineault’s laboratory between 2014-2016.
Histocompatibility and immunogenetics laboratories in Canada make crucial contributions to the process of connecting patients with donated organs, tissues, stem cells and platelets. There are 16 histocompatibility and immunogenetics laboratories located across Canada but not every lab encounters the same type of transplant and transfusion testing on a daily basis. Some lab locations focus on certain types of cases, depending on their local needs and laboratory size.
These laboratories are supervised by individuals called HLA lab directors. In a way, HLA lab directors act as matchmakers. When a request from a hospital or clinic is received, they set to work scrutinizing samples from the patient and potential donor to compare compatibility and analyze antibodies in pursuit of connecting the best donor-patient pairings.
It’s important to note that an HLA lab director’s work isn’t over when a match is made. Even after a transplant or platelet transfusion has occurred, HLA lab directors are involved in evaluating the risk of rejection and understanding factors around disease associations and adverse reactions. They provide consultation directly to physicians and health-care teams to support the goal of successful patient outcomes.
Fatima: Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) is found on the surfaces of red and white blood cells. HLA is what gives your immune system its own unique imprint and when a transplant is required, HLA lab directors use their training, procedures, and technology to understand the unique imprints of each patient and donor in order to identify the best match.
Ahmad is quick to acknowledge those involved in making his rotation experience possible. In correspondence following his rotation, Ahmad noted appreciation for the “wonderful and fruitful training” that “opened my eyes to new solid organ transplant testing, procedures, and troubleshooting.”
Ahmad: I completed my rotation at the Edmonton laboratory with the director, Dr. Trish Campbell. The Edmonton lab is located at the University of Alberta hospital where Dr. Campbell is also a professor in the department of laboratory medicine & pathology. My rotation was four weeks long. I spent time shadowing Dr. Campbell and discussing cases, including the difficult aspects of specific cases and the tricks for troubleshooting. I also worked with a technologist to learn about technical decisions, like how they test and what they test for with each case.
Ahmad: In this rotation, I got to see a different perspective on the testing that’s completed and learned about what is acceptable for different targets. The rotation allowed me to see the differences in terms of clinical applications specific to the type of transplant like, for example, when a liver is needed it may be able to be taken from a donor who is very slightly mismatched, but that’s not the case with bone marrow. The rotation hasn’t necessarily changed my day-to-day work, because back in my lab in Calgary I have returned to the types [of organs] we typically focus on there. But this has provided more knowledge base that I could draw on when I am finished my fellowship.
To learn more about the BloodTechNet award program, visit our research funding opportunities webpage: Canadian Blood Services BloodTechNet Award Program.
To see the resources created by past BloodTechNet funded projects, visit our BloodTechNet educational resources page on ProfEdu.ca.
For information about HLA/HPA selected platelets, including how to order testing, visit HLA/HPA selected platelets.
Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation
Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact.
The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.