Bushra Anjum

Supervisor: Lori West

Project: Sex, T cells and the microbiome: Development of natural ABO antibodies in an animal model


Edmonton, AB

Degree program:

Bachelor of Science

What did you get to work on throughout your studentship?

As a returning trainee and summer student at the West Lab, I had the opportunity to extend my project from last summer. From analyzing experimental data and improving my scientific writing skills through abstract writing, to presenting my research at various research days, I had a plethora of experiences that fostered my growth while obtaining greater transplant immunology knowledge from my mentor.

What's been the best part of your experience so far?

Having the opportunity to continue my project in immunology! I enjoyed the opportunity to develop my conceptual understanding of class material by attending stimulating seminars that satisfied my unrelenting desire to learn about different research fields. The most rewarding component of this opportunity was attending the American Transplant Congress—my first international conference—which helped me communicate my ideas to the scientific community.

What interested you in the summer studentship program?

My experience at the West Lab has unquestionably been the most important and rewarding component of my undergraduate education: collaborating with mentors to have my abstract accepted to my first international conference and gaining research laboratory skills, performing antibody assays, using new instruments and analyzing data. Being a part of a collaborative environment and learning about the applications of basic science research to clinical practices has tapped into my zest for pursuing children and women's healthcare research in the future.

How has your studentship helped you towards your career aspirations?

My undergraduate educational experience at the West Lab has been excellent as I've received invaluable personal and professional mentorship towards becoming a clinical scientist in pediatrics. Through my knowledgeable supervisors and my project towards expanding the organ donor pool, I've strengthened my passion in learning about the applications of basic science research to clinical practices.

What has the support from WCHRI and the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation meant to you?

As a young trainee and researcher, a WCHRI Summer Studentship funded through the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation has enhanced my passion towards becoming a clinical scientist in pediatrics. Not only has this award helped me better understand the breadth of research in women and children's healthcare but instilled confidence and trust in my future. Thank you to the Foundation for the opportunity to meet some incredible role models through WCHRI and for a summer I will not forget.

Lay Summary

ABO blood group structures are sugars (A, B or O) on red blood cells and organs. Expression of these sugars determines our blood type. We naturally produce antibodies to the sugars that are not our own. For example, blood type O people, who express neither A or B sugars, have antibodies to A and B sugars.

For blood transfusions and for transplants the presence of these antibodies means we normally need to match blood types. However, if ABO-mismatched transplantation could be safely performed it would increase the number of transplants and save lives.

ABO antibodies do not begin to develop until about six months of age. Dr. West was the first to show that ABO-mismatched transplantation could safely be performed in infants because they lack these antibodies. Dr. West also showed as children grow, they don't produce ABO antibodies to the mismatched heart—a process called immune tolerance.

Our project will lead to new knowledge about the development of ABO antibodies. We will use an exciting new method we developed to monitor antibodies in blood that recognize ABO sugars. This test will give us new information about the types of antibodies that recognize ABO sugars. As some studies are difficult or impossible to do in humans, for our initial studies we will use an animal model. We will study the role of sex and age in natural ABO antibody development, as well as the impact of the gut microbiome (microorganisms in the gut) and T cells (known to help B-cells make antibodies).

Our findings to date show that ABO antibodies are produced at much higher amounts in female vs. male in this model. We will investigate this interesting sex difference in detail. Having a better understanding of how ABO antibodies develop may allow for ABO-mismatched heart transplantation to be extended safely beyond infancy. This would have the potential to improve the well-being of the many older children awaiting heart transplantation.