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Federal funding to aid expansion of Hamilton-based lab studying vaccine-related blood clots

Technical director James Smith and research scientist Angela Huynh in the McMaster Platelet Immunology Laboratory. McMaster University

A McMaster University laboratory combating vaccine-related blood clots is getting a boost from the federal government to expand its testing centre.

The $1.5-million grant from the Public Health Agency of Canada earmarked for McMaster’s Platelet Immunology Laboratory (MPIL) will aid studies on vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT), identified in a small number of COVID-19 vaccine recipients.

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The affliction came to the forefront amid the pandemic when VITT was associated with some 30 patients and five deaths in Canada but not definitively linked to the viral vector shots from Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Read more: Ontario researchers find how some COVID-19 vaccines can trigger blood clots

According to the Ontario Science Table, a VITT case usually presents itself between four and 28 days after vaccination.

Hamilton-based researchers have been collecting blood samples from VITT patients for diagnostic testing with the emergence of the problem in the hopes of devising treatments based on the previous study of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) – a disorder tied to the clumping of platelets in the blood causing clots.

“This expansion of world-class rapid laboratory testing here in Canada for suspected Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) cases will provide expertise to our international partners, and support Canada’s robust vaccine safety surveillance systems,” federal Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement.

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Ishac Nazy, scientific director of the lab and associate professor of medicine, says the research will also support foreign labs not equipped to diagnose and treat VITT.

“This lab is uniquely positioned as a true translational medical facility; we research disease mechanisms using patient blood samples. This allows us to devise diagnostic testing and new therapies that have already saved patients’ lives,” Nazy said in a release.

Read more: Hamilton researchers have recommended treatment for rare blood clotting

Canada has had few new cases of VITT since late May after several provinces, including Ontario, decreased usage of the vaccine.

However, co-medical director of the lab Donald Arnold said the MPIL has been handling patient blood samples from abroad, most recently Brazil.

“We are well-positioned as a national repository of data and the reference laboratory, to serve both our country and the world in surveillance, diagnosis and treatment of VITT,” Arnold said

“Clinicians are still on high alert for clotting caused by adenovirus-vector vaccines.”

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