Alberta has the lowest rate of organ and tissue donation in Canada, something Dr. Lori West aims to change. West is the founding director of the Canadian National Transplant Research Program, a $25-million project established last year, based at the University Alberta, that brings together 105 researchers from across the country to study every aspect of organ donation, from which social factors improve donation rates to how to prevent the failure of donated organs. “It covers medical research at every level – it’s not just that it links people nationally, from across the country, but it links investigators in disciplines that don’t normally work together, as well as in every aspect of research.” West believes it’s essential to take lab research not just to the patient’s bedside but also to use that research as a basis to form policy.
That’s an area where she’s already succeeded. As the interim director of the Alberta Transplant Institute, West worked to advise the provincial government on legislation that would improve organ donation in the province. In April, Alberta launched its new online Organ and Tissue Donation Registry, which allows residents to sign up online and asks what they’d like done with their organs in the event of their death. While the registry isn’t legally binding, it can help families confirm that a loved one did intend to donate their organs. It’s hoped that the new registry will help boost Alberta’s donation rates, which have fallen from among the best in the country to the worst in the past decade. The province’s next step will be to establish a single agency that will co-ordinate organ donation in the province, which are currently handled by a variety of specialized agencies across the province. “That’s what we believe will truly move things forward,” says West. “Success for me would be if we could ensure that every Canadian who needs a transplant has the opportunity to receive one, and that we’ve improved long-term outcomes so individuals who are saved by this therapy are able to have long, healthy lives,” says West.