Gaining ground in mechanical heart research

Dr. Jennifer ConwayAt the Stollery Children’s Hospital, Dr. Jennifer Conway’s research explores heart failure, transplant and mechanical hearts in children. In 2014, she received a Recruitment award from WCHRI, allowing her to examine development of antibodies following heart transplants. Antibodies may be detrimental to a transplant -- fighting against the new organ. “Our hope is to characterize the antibodies a little bit better to see if some of them might not cause an issue after transplant,” says Dr. Conway.

Dr. Conway’s study will likely take two years at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. “The Stollery Children’s Hospital and the U of A has a unique advantage in that we have a combined adult and pediatric Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) program,” She explained. “That’s not something you see in most places in North America...This project will allow us to be able to expand the research into [the] whole age spectrum and look at the differences between children and some adults.”

This study could have far-reaching applications, provincially and beyond. “From an Alberta perspective, it will potentially allow us to have a better understanding of those patients going into VAD in order to counsel them about their risks after VAD,” Dr. Conway noted. “Patients will have more knowledge going into VAD implantation.”

The goal of this study is to identify if the antibodies developed after implantation are created by the patient his/herself, or as a bi-product of the blood products used for implantation. If the antibodies were developed by blood products, the patient’s body may still be able to accept the transplant. Ultimately, Dr. Conway says this may “increase the usage of donor organs in this patient population.”

In addition to this project, Dr. Conway is also developing a VAD repository to look at long term outcomes in patients that have had VADs implanted in the past. “There is no central place to go for that information,” Dr. Conway explained. The database will help researchers answer questions related to VAD studies and share their own results with others.

For this database work, Dr. Conway has enlisted the help of WCHRI’s Support Platforms for Integrated Research (SPIR) program. Research coordinators Charlene Cars and Shirley Beauchamp are helping her to compile the necessary data and recruit patients.

“I would like to say I very much appreciate the support that WCHRI has provided, both in guidance and in pointing me in the right direction when I run into some stumbling blocks...I think it has been invaluable for my early research career here at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.”

Dr. Jennifer Conway’s research has been funded by the generous support of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI.

Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation