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ISHLT International Travelling Scholarship Award:
A Visit Report

Stephanie T Yerkovich, PhD
The Prince Charles Hospital, Brisbane, Australia

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Thanks to an ISHLT Travelling Scholarship, I had the opportunity to visit the Toronto Lung Transplant Program, and, in particular, the laboratory of Prof Tom Waddell, to foster and enhance our collaborative interests. Therefore, at the end of 2011 I left the sunny shores of Brisbane, Australia bound for the cold of Toronto, Canada.

niagara fallsThe travel itself was an adventure and it is only when you undertake international travel that you realise how isolated Australia really is. I left a warm 30°C (86°F) Brisbane day to arrive nearly 24 hours and 2 long-haul plane flights later in Toronto at a mere 5°C (41°F). Apparently this was warm for the time of year, which was lucky for me! However, I was keen for the temperature to plummet so I could see snow, and excitedly I saw the first winter snow flurries a few days after my arrival. Work was promptly halted, the camera retrieved and, like a tourist, many photos were taken. The travel award allowed me to visit places like the spectacular Niagara Falls (at right).

The collaboration between our research groups, headed by Dr Daniel Chambers and Prof Tom Waddell, began at the 2010 ISHLT Annual Meeting in Chicago through Dr Sarah Gilpin. Sarah had presented some of her work demonstrating the appearance of bone-marrow derived epithelial progenitor cells, which are hypothesised to aid in epithelial repair, in the circulation of patients with advanced lung disease and post-lung transplant. We also had been looking at a similar cellular population and, following that meeting, began a collaboration using her cell markers and our unique access to the airway epithelium at post-transplant bronchoscopies to identify if these cells traffic to and reside in the lung following transplant.

While the collaboration has been maintained since our first meeting, with yearly catch-ups at the annual ISHLT meeting and via email, the opportunity to meet face-to-face and spend a period of time in Prof Waddell's lab was too good an opportunity to pass up. My visit lasted two weeks and was both a productive and positive experience. The primary aim of the visit was to discuss our results, spend time with Sarah looking at her data, and getting her opinion on our data.

stephanie yerkovich and sarah gilpinBeing able to discuss the data in person and perform the flow cytometry analyses together, while having the opportunity to perform the cell staining in the laboratory, was extremely valuable. As the epithelial progenitor cells are a rare population, it was crucial to be able to compare how we both independently perform the staining and to ensure consistency. The project has benefitted enormously from our time together and some of the results will be presented at the upcoming ISHLT meeting in Prague.

My visit also allowed me to share our techniques, especially the small airway brushing protocol which offers a unique source of primary epithelial cells that can be used for a variety of projects. Visiting such a large, vibrant and diverse transplant-focused research program was a fantastic and unique opportunity, which is especially important with the limited and isolated laboratory-based transplant research occurring across Australia.

Finally, having the opportunity to be immersed in both the research and clinical components of a large transplant program has given me a broader understanding of lung transplantation in general.

Overall the visit was a valuable experience and I would like thank ISHLT for providing the Travelling Scholarship, Prof Tom Waddell and Dr Sarah Gilpin for hosting my visit, and all the clinical and research members of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program for being so accommodating and willing to share their program with me.

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Myself (left) and Dr Sarah Gilpin at the Toronto Lung Transplant Program's Christmas Party.