Genome British Columbia

Genome British Columbia

May 26, 2009 10:01 ET

Researchers developing new blood test

Researchers devising blood test to diagnose organ rejection in transplant patients

Attention: Assignment Editor, Health/Medical Editor, News Editor, Science Editor VANCOUVER/BC--(Marketwire - May 26, 2009) - The dream of personalized medicine is one step closer today with the launch of the second phase of Biomarkers in Transplantation, an innovative translational research initiative that will eventually allow doctors to identify which patients rejecting a transplanted organ with a simple blood test, aimed at eliminating the need for expensive, painful post-surgery biopsies and reducing the burden of transplantation costs on the health care system.

The initiative is funded by Genome British Columbia and the PROOF Centre of Excellence.

The Biomarkers in Transplantation project is making use of advanced genomic, proteomic and computational tools to develop the test, which will diagnose organ rejection before and when it happens by allowing doctors to intervene much earlier and to personalize the patient's immunosuppressant therapy.

"By reducing or replacing the biopsy tests with a biomarkers test that measures proteins or genes in the blood, we get a quantitative, not qualitative test, which isn't nearly as frightening for patients and gives us better insights into the biology," says Dr. Bruce McManus, head of the PROOF Centre for Excellence, a partner organization in the study.

Using blood samples from transplant patients in Vancouver, Dr. McManus and his colleagues, Dr. Paul Keown and Dr. Robert McMaster (Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute), have uncovered blood biomarkers that will diagnose or predict acute organ rejection.

"We have validated our test in one group of patients and we are now taking our test across Canada in preparation for the Health Canada and FDA approval process," says McManus - who estimates that the formal submission will be made within 24 months.

This is great news for patients like transplant recipient Sarah Johnston. After undergoing a successful heart transplant four years ago, Johnston, then a 27-year-old mother of three, began experiencing symptoms of organ rejection. "My legs were swelling and I felt short of breath and tired. Things were impossibly heavy - even lifting a jug of milk would take incredible effort," she recalls.

Johnston then had to endure a series of painful heart biopsies - a highly invasive procedure in which heart muscle tissue is extracted using a long flexible wire that is passed though a vein in the neck and down into the heart - and was then treated with immunosuppressant medications, necessary but often toxic drugs that can cause susceptibility to other diseases or even damage the transplanted organ itself.

Given that the average cost of a biopsy encounter in Canada is somewhere between $5-10 thousand dollars - and that the average heart transplant recipient will need between 14 and 16 of these invasive procedures in the first year alone - the benefits that test could provide are enormous, with estimated cost savings of several million dollars a year in Canada for heart transplants alone, only considering acute rejection monitoring.

"We are very pleased to support this world-class research team in tackling such a critical issue. This project will deliver a less invasive, more patient-centric way to diagnose organ rejection, and will be a further step in realizing the potential of personalized medicine," Says Dr. Alan Winter, Genome BC's President and CEO.

Fast-forward four years: Sarah Johnston is now enjoying her life with her family - but she is ever conscious of the powerful immunosuppressant drugs and their toll on her body. "We are so grateful for this new heart and the life it has given me. I just hope that future transplant recipients will have a chance at a smoother road after the operation," she says.

About Genome BC
Founded in 2000, Genome BC works collaboratively with government, universities and industry as the catalyst for a genomics-driven life sciences cluster with significant social and economic benefits for the Province and Canada. The organization's research portfolio, over $380 million since inception, includes 60 projects and technology platforms focused on areas of strategic importance to British Columbia such as human health, forestry, fisheries, bioenergy, mining, agriculture, ethics and the environment.

About the PROOF Centre of Excellence
The Prevention of Organ Failure Centre of Excellence (PROOF Centre) discovers, develops, commercializes and implements biological markers (biomarkers) to diagnose, prevent and treat heart, lung and kidney failure. The PROOF Centre is a unique, multi-disciplinary hub of partners from industry, academia, healthcare, government, patients and the public. The PROOF Centre's "personalized medicine" approach - giving the right person, the right treatment, at the right time, in the right amount - will reduce the enormous burden of organ failure and improve health. The PROOF Centre of Excellence is supported by the Government of Canada through a Networks of Centres of Excellence program.

For more information, visit or


Note to Editors:
Drs. Bruce McManus, Paul Keown, and Rob McMaster, along with transplant recipient Sarah Johnston will be available for interviews about the Biomarkers for Transplantation project at the Proof Centre Meeting Annual Meeting.

A more detailed background sheet on the biomarkers project is also available upon request.

Date/Time: Tuesday, May 26th at 9:30 a.m.

Place: Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel, Pavilion Ballroom, North Tower, 1088 Burrard Street, Vancouver

Images/photographs and telephone interviews available on request. /For further information: Jenny Boon
Communications Manager, PROOF Centre
778.327.8374/ IN: HEALTH

Contact Information

  • Rachael Zamperini, Communications Consultant
    Primary Phone: 604-612-6345