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Genomics centre to research organ transplant rejection


Edmonton, AB – A new genomics centre at the University of Alberta is exploring ways to help transplant patients fight organ rejection.

The Alberta Transplant Institute Applied Genomics Centre has been kick-started by a $1-million gift from the Alberta government. Additionally, Roche Molecular Diagnostics will provide the gene expression analysis technology and Roche Pharmaceuticals will contribute an unrestricted grant towards the project. Both the University of Alberta and Capital Health will contribute funds, workspace and resources.

Initially, the centre will study kidney transplant patients to develop a better understanding of transplant disease mechanisms and rejection, says Dr Phil Halloran, head of the Genome Canada Transplant Transcriptome Project at the U of A. He explained that the centre’s first project will explore the application of gene chip technology, which records genes in a hand-held device. The technology has great potential for treating transplant patients, as it can predict organ rejection before it occurs, allowing doctors to adjust doses of anti-rejection medications, and preventing subsequent tissue damage.

“The project is designed to take the new gene technology and look at it in experimental animals and in humans, starting with kidneys and then going to other organs,” says Dr Halloran, who has been developing the use of gene-chip technology in organ transplants for two years. His lab was initially funded by the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, and Genome Canada, the latter contributing $18 million to U of A genomics research in 2004.

The gene chip or micro-array could make diagnosis far more accurate and efficient than the current histology technique. The research centre will also help in the understanding of the mechanisms of disease itself, so better diagnoses can be made, and better anti-rejection drugs developed.

“The existing information (about transplant rejection) is inadequate, our existing diagnostic systems are inadequate and it’s costing people opportunities for a long life,” he adds.

Reported by Caitlin Crawshaw