Dr. Tom Blydt-Hansen recently joined CFRI as a clinician scientist. He is also the Director of the Pediatric Multi-Organ Transplant Program at BC Children's Hospital and Associate Professor in the UBC Department of Pediatrics. Dr. Blydt-Hansen spoke about how he brings cutting-edge research into the clinic to improve the care of children living with kidney transplants and chronic kidney disease. What research are you currently working on?
Dr. Tom Blydt-Hansen: One of my main focuses is developing better methods for diagnosing organ rejection in children who've had kidney transplants. In many cases, we can only tell if a patient is experiencing rejection by doing a biopsy, which is invasive and carries some risk. I'm working on creating a test that will screen for signs of rejection in a patient's urine. Having an easier, less invasive test for rejection will allow us to monitor patients more closely and treat rejection before it results in the loss of the new kidney.
I'm also working with researchers across North America on a long-term study that follows over 800 children with chronic kidney disease. We're trying to understand why kidney function gets worse over time in these patients so we can find ways to prevent the disease from progressing. Specifically, I'm investigating ways to identify signals of disease progression in the urine so we can develop faster, less invasive tests for these children and help them maintain their health.
Another key aspect of my research program is multi-centre collaboration. A single treatment centre may only do a handful of pediatric kidney transplants every year. In order to improve outcomes for children who have transplants, we need to work together and build a strong community of clinical researchers. What drew you to working at CFRI?
TBH: I was excited by the opportunity to seamlessly integrate my research program into my clinical practice. Here at CFRI and BC Children's Hospital, we ask questions in the clinic, answer them through our research programs, and then translate the results back into the clinical setting. It's really important to me that the children who inspire our research questions actually benefit from the cutting-edge work we do in the lab.
I was also really excited about collaborating with the other researchers at CFRI who are using different methods to solve the same problems I tackle in my research programs. For example, there are scientists here who are working to improve transplant outcomes by targeting the immune system. If we could find a way to make the immune system accept the transplanted organ as part of the body, then we could free patients from taking powerful anti-rejection medications for the rest of their lives. That's really the holy grail of organ transplantation. What originally drew you to this area of research?
TBH: I'm a clinician at heart, and my first mission in life is to help children. I was drawn to the sub-specialty of pediatric kidney transplants because I really think transplantation is one of the miracles of modern medicine. We can successfully replace an organ that doesn't work with one that does and restore a critically ill child to health. Being part of something like that and seeing the change in children who've benefited from transplantation is miraculous to me. You recently moved to Vancouver with your family. What are some of your favourite things about living here so far?
TBH: We moved here from Winnipeg, so I really appreciate the mountains and the weather. I know people say it rains a lot here, but I haven't seen that yet. I was just happy to be able to go outside and enjoy the world in the middle of winter! Dr. Blydt-Hansen's research is made possible by the support of BC Children's Hospital Foundation.