The immunology lab at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) is always bustling with activity. Alongside regular day-to-day tasks involving testing for immune system compatibility for leukemia and solid organ transplant patients, research is being conducted under the supervision of Dr. Paul Keown. The research team is working on next generation sequencing that will increase the precision and accuracy of matching transplant organs to recipients in an effort to decrease rejection, graft-vs-host disease and other complications.
The immunology lab is off limits to hospital visitors, but here we give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what goes on.
In the immunology lab, pictures of Futurama’s Bender and Calculon adorn important pieces of equipment as good luck charms. Several of the machines are dedicated to testing white blood cells, DNA (chromosome six), and specific antibodies that would create problems with compatibility between organ and recipient. This work is especially important for cases of leukemia where a bone marrow transplant can cause the new immune system to reject the patient. Precisely matching immune systems as much as possible is key to a successful transplant.
All compatibility testing for organ transplants in B.C. is done at VGH, which means that someone from the immunology team is always on call, even in the middle of the night.
Staff members take turns carrying a pager that alerts them when an organ donor’s blood has arrived for testing. Then it’s off to the lab to perform the tests that will give the needed information about the immune system of the organ donor, allowing for the best match to be found from among the people waiting for transplant.
Because of the 24-hour nature of the job and the high volume of testing needed to be done each day, 16-hour shifts are not uncommon. The immunology staff members look out for each other and try to create a fun and supportive environment. Even though their break room is quite small, they do what they can to make it warm and inviting by bringing books and magazines from home to share with their colleagues.
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