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Clinical research that transforms care: Q&A with Dr. Soren Gantt

May 11, 2018
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Clinical research - research focused on improving patient care - is a central part of the BC Children’s Hospital mission. It allows researchers to learn about health conditions by directly studying patients and to move to medications, diagnostic tools, and treatments out of the laboratory and into the hospital where they can save and improve the lives of children. 

It’s something Dr. Soren Gantt, BC Children’s new Director of Clinical Research, has seen firsthand, as he has both cared for patients and performed research to improve clinical care throughout the course of his career. Dr. Gantt is a pediatric infectious disease specialist and investigator at the Vaccine Evaluation Center at BC Children’s and an Associate Professor in the UBC Department of Pediatrics. 

In his new role, Dr. Gantt will be responsible for building capacity and developing support for clinical research on the Oak Street campus, helping children in BC and beyond benefit from the latest scientific discoveries. 

He is taking over the position from Dr. Stuart Turvey, who is stepping down after an exceptional six-year tenure. 

Dr. Gantt talks about his plans for the new role and how his work as a clinician fuels his research.

What are your plans as you begin this new role?

First and foremost, I want to hear from the clinical research community on this campus. I want to get to know their needs so we can plan initiatives that will have the biggest impact and greatest value for researchers.  

I feel very fortunate coming into this role because I’m building on a really strong foundation created by Dr. Turvey and his colleagues in the Clinical Research Support Unit. I’m looking forward to further developing the work that began during Dr. Turvey’s tenure, for example, by building on the strength of our data team and statistical support services. I’m also excited about some new initiatives like pilot funding to help new clinical investigators build their research programs and a new lab space where clinical researchers and their trainees can run experiments. 

Why is clinical research important?

Ultimately, clinical research is how we improve health care, by discovering new ways to prevent or treat disease and translating these discoveries into clinic practice.

 
Supporting clinicians so they have the time and resources to do research is a key part of having a vital research community. Clinician researchers are uniquely positioned to bridge science and medicine. Because they work directly with patients and families, they can recognize the most pressing clinical problems and design research to solve them. They can also use their scientific knowledge to help shepherd the latest advances from the lab into the clinic. 

What are you working on in your own research?

For the past several years, my work has focused on a virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV is a common virus, carried by around 50 per cent of adults in Canada. Most people who have CMV never know it though, because it doesn’t typically cause symptoms if you’re healthy. However, CMV can cause life-threatening disease in people with weakened immune systems, and when it is spread from mother to fetus during pregnancy it can cause serious problems in the baby including hearing loss and developmental delays. 

In my research, I look at a CMV from all different perspectives, from how the virus spreads from person to person, to how to create and test CMV vaccines, to how to implement screening programs and other interventions that can give babies with CMV the best possible health outcomes as they grow up. 

As someone who works in both in both research and clinical spaces, you have the opportunity to meet families affected by CMV and other conditions you’ve studied. How has this impacted your work?

My work as pediatrician helped me realize that developing better preventative measures and treatments for CMV is a huge unmet need. CMV is the most common infection in unborn babies, but we currently don’t have a vaccine or other way to prevent it. Also, most infected babies aren’t diagnosed in time to give them the best available treatments.

In my clinical work here at BC Children’s, I’ve found that families really want us to develop better ways to prevent and treat CMV, even if these advances will come too late to help their own children. Parents often ask me questions like “Is there any way we could have prevented this?” or “What if my child had been diagnosed earlier?” These questions motivate my research. I look forward to a day when we can prevent kids from being harmed by CMV, so families don’t have to wonder how things could have been different.  

What do you like to do outside of work?

I spend most of my time with my wife and two kids. We like to ski and cycle and we’re big baseball fans. I grew up in Kansas City so my son and I root for the Royals, but my wife’s from New England and she and my daughter are Red Sox fans – so we have a bit of an intra-family rivalry. We also like to go to Vancouver Canadians games, where luckily we can all agree to cheer for the home team.