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Research

The team is committed to Good Clinical Practice (GCP), and our staff brings a wide range of experience, both local and international, to the group. The Hematology and Oncology Research Program at St. Paul’s Hospital is directed by Dr. Heather Leitch, and was pioneered and founded by Dr. Linda Vickars. The team is comprised of our hematologists, who all act as investigators, along with four other clinical research professionals. Our hematologists include Dr. Shannon Jackson, Dr. Chantal Léger, Dr. Heather Leitch, Dr. Khaled Ramadan, Dr. Hatoon Ezzat, Dr. Camilla Ross and Dr. Lynda Foltz as the Division Head. Our clinical research professional team also includes Evvie Fikeris, Michelle Mony, Carolina Novoa and Rachel Despotovic.

Daniel (Yejun) Lee

Research Coordinator
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  • Daniel will be receiving his Bachelor of Integrated Science Degree in Microbiology from UBC in early 2022. He has been a Clinical Research Coordinator for over one year. He recently joined the Hematology/Oncology Research Group at St. Paul’s in late December 2021 and is currently leading studies related to MDS, Myelofibrosis, Sickle Cell Disease and Hemophilia.

Tathiana Ruiz

Research Coordinator
  • Tathiana received her Medical Degree in State University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. She also completed her Medical Residency Program in Hematology and PhD in Health Sciences, Hematology, both at the Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Since moving to Canada, she has been involved in clinical trials since 2018. Tathiana joined the Hematology/Oncology Research Group at St. Paul’s in early 2021 as a Clinical Research Coordinator and has been the main lead for studies related to myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) and MDS.

Rachel Despotovic

Research Manager
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  • Rachel received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Life Sciences from UBC. She has been with the Hematology/Oncology Research Group at St. Paul’s as a Research Manager since 2016, and has had experience in clinical trials since 2011. She oversees the general operations, finance and budgeting for the group.

Overview

  • The vision of Providence Hematology is “Excellence in Care, Teaching and Research for Blood Disorders and Blood Cancers”. Though these goals are intricately interrelated, here we describe hematology research.

  • Lead Investigators

    Dr. Heather Leitch, MD, PhD, Director, Hematology/Oncology Research at Providence Health Care; Clinical Professor of Medicine, UBC

    Dr. Lynda Foltz, MD, Head, Division of Hematology at Providence Health Care; Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, UBC

  • Other Investigators

    Hematologists: Dr. Chantal Leger; Dr. Khaled Ramadan; Dr. Hatoon Ezzat; Dr. Shannon Jackson; Dr. Camilla Ross

    Research Staff: Rachel Despotovic, Tathiana Ruiz, Daniel (Yejun) Lee

Two Girls working together

The physicians and staff in the Division of Hematology at St. Paul’s Hospital are committed to improving the care of patients with blood disorders and blood cancers by improving knowledge about these conditions and about new treatments for them. To achieve this, Hematology Research studies all aspects of blood disorders and blood cancers. Many of the efforts of the St. Paul’s Hematology Research group have been successful in achieving these goals. For example, the group has taken a leadership role in research aimed at improving the understanding and treatment of patients with acquired anemias such as MDS requiring transfusion, which can lead to the accumulation of (toxic) iron in the organs.

Visionary Research

The myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of bone marrow disorders characterized low blood cell counts and an increased risk of developing acute myelogenous leukemia (AML); AML can develop over time in up to one-third of MDS patients. In the past, MDS was classified as a disease of low malignant potential and referred to as a pre-leukemia. Now that more has been learned about MDS, it is considered to be a form of cancer. The incidence of MDS, like many bone marrow cancers, is increasing, which is partially related to the aging population of Canada, particularly in British Columbia. You can read more about MDS at: http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/leukemia/leukemia/myelodysplastic-syndromes/?region=on#ixzz3zhL34VKJ

Every unit of RBC contains 200 to 250mg of iron in hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to the tissues, and the body has no mechanism to excrete excess iron, which can accumulate in the organs and result in: scarring of the liver and liver cancer; heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms; and diabetes; and can also worsen bone marrow failure, and possibly accelerate progression to AML.Most patients with MDS eventually develop a requirement for regular red blood cell (RBC) transfusions to partially correct progressive anemia and support life. RBC transfusion dependence is associated with shortened survival and reduced quality of life. The increasing number of patients who are RBC transfusion dependent put an increasing strain on health care resources, such as infusion times in the Medical Short Stay Unit at St. Paul’s Hospital.

St. Paul’s Hospital has taken a global leadership position into alerting hematologists to the harmful effects of transfusional iron overload and the importance of minimizing and reversing these effects through the use of iron chelation therapy in patients with MDS and other bone marrow failure syndromes. This has been done through clinical trials and also retrospective studies, and our findings have been shared worldwide through lecture tours, review articles and editorials, inclusion in think tanks and the development of new clinical trials, the development of web-based therapeutic algorithms (www.MDSClearPath.org), and inclusion in the educational resources of the American Society of Hematology (ASH).

We are an MDS Foundation Center for Excellence https://www.mds-foundation.org/. Similar initiatives have been taken in other blood cancers including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL); myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) such as primary myelofibrosis (PMF) and others; HIV-related lymphoma; and more. Other studies focus on non-malignant blood disorders such as: bleeding disorders; hereditary anemias; non-malignant blood conditions in persons living with HIV; and more.Other research in MDS includes groundbreaking descriptions of autoimmune manifestations of MDS, and treatment of higher risk MDS in patients living with well controlled HIV infection (read more at: Williamson BT, Foltz LM and Leitch HA. Autoimmune Manifestations Presenting within Myelodysplastic Syndromes: a Case Series and Literature Review. Canadian Conference on MDS, Banff, September 12-13 2014, www.ccmds-banff.ca/ and Williamson BT and Leitch HA, “Higher Risk Myelodysplastic Syndromes in Patients with Well-Controlled HIV Infection: Clinical Features, Treatment, and Outcome,” Case Reports in Hematology, vol. 2016, Article ID 8502641, 7 pages, 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/8502641.).

Study Areas

  • Areas of active research include the investigation of new treatments for patients with acute myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, HIV-related lymphoma, multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, myeloproliferative disorders, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, hemophilia & bleeding disorders, hemoglobinopathies, thrombosis and other blood-related conditions. Future studies may address additional blood problems.

The Future

  • You can support the growth of great research in blood disorders and blood cancers! This is an exciting time for research. Our research has grown steadily over the last decade in terms of both numbers and complexity. Patients with four diseases account for most of this increase: non-Hodgkin lymphoma, acute leukemia (largely acute myeloid leukemia), multiple myeloma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. These disease areas all increase in frequency, largely as a result of the general aging of the population. We will continue to deliver the best care to our patients and we are excited to play an active role in research development.

Training Opportunities

  • Our investigators also offer customizable educational opportunities to community members. If this interests you, please contact us today and learn with our investigators!
  • Our team is also proud to involve students and trainees in our research program. Projects investigating areas in hematology/oncology offer an exciting opportunity to do real research. Individuals who are interested in partaking in a summer research project within the Hematology/Oncology Research Program should contact one of our members.