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Interview with Tatyana Suslova

Tatyana Alexandrovna Suslova, head of the Molecular Biology Diagnostics Department in the Chelyabinsk Regional Blood Transfusion Station. She became the best doctor of the Blood Service in the category «Doctor of the Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory» of the Blood Service Professional Excellence Competition 2020. Tatyana Alexandrovna is not only a practicing immunogeneticist, but also a theoretician: Tatyana Aleksandrovna shares her knowledge with students at the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and General Biology of Chelyabinsk State University. Among her many professional merits is the participation in the development of Chelyabinsk as one of the leading transplant centers in Russia.

What does this victory mean to you?

I accept this victory not only as a recognition of personal merits, the result of many years of work in the chosen specialty, but as a common victory for the entire team of the Chelyabinsk Regional Blood Transfusion Station. It’s basically just a phase. There are so many ideas I would like to share.

Tell us about yourself, how did you choose your life path, how did you choose your specialization in medicine? Did you rely on the advice of loved ones, or did some event make a strong impression on you and help you decide on the direction?

I had no choice. I was born the same year that HLA (human leukocyte antigen) was discovered, and on the same day as Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek, "the Father of Microbiology". My path was predetermined - I work in the field of HLA typing. In 1981, I graduated from the Chelyabinsk Medical Institute, and already in the internship I chose my specialty. I realized that I would work in the field of clinical laboratory diagnostics in relation to hematological patients. Human blood hides so many secrets and can tell so much about the state of any organ of a sick and healthy person, about his diagnosis, about how successful the treatment is. This is especially important for the diagnosis of severe hematological diseases. Since I was an intern, I remember my two first patients with acute leukemia. The effectiveness of the disease treatment was very low, if not zero, and these young girls died, we could not help them, only relieved their suffering. My choice for the next 40 years of work was determined there, in the department of hematology: clinical studies for the diagnosis and treatment of hematological patients. Decades have passed and new successful treatment regimens have appeared, including stem cell transplantation. Our patients have a chance to recover. They are helped by the work of diagnostic laboratories and blood services. I am the first doctor in the family: my mother is a teacher, my father is an engineer, my sister is an economist.

What achievements do you consider extremely important, what are you proud of?

All work was extremely important: in the beginning, in the immunological typing laboratory of the Regional Blood Transfusion Station. The laboratory was established by order of the USSR Ministry of Health. Immunological studies were carried out using serological methods. During the restructuring, we began to study the methods of molecular diagnostics of HLA. Before the default of 1998, we managed to acquire the first domestic PCR equipment and master the method. In the 2000s, graduates of the Faculty of Biology of the Chelyabinsk State University began to work in the laboratory. They became skillful and reliable colleagues. During these years we managed to create the Chelyabinsk registry of stem cell donors. The first stem cell donor in Russia took place in 2007 from the Chelyabinsk registry for a patient of the Yekaterinburg Children's Regional Clinical Hospital. Since 2009, immunogenetic methods for selecting a compatible donor-recipient pair for kidney transplantation have been added to the laboratory's activities, and the first successful kidney transplantation took place in Chelyabinsk in 2009. All immunological examination of the donor-recipient pair was carried out in the laboratory of the Chelyabinsk Regional Blood Transfusion Station. Chelyabinsk can be called a transplant medical city: we transplant kidneys, hearts, and livers to patients of the Regional Clinical Hospital. In addition, over the past 10 years, about 36 donors of the Chelyabinsk blood transfusion station have donated stem cells for hematological patients in transplant clinics in Russia. I am proud that I have contributed to the transformation of Chelyabinsk into an advanced transplant center in Russia.

Your professional interests are vast. Theory and practice should be interconnected with each other - this is your principle, therefore you are not only an immunogenetician, head of the department of molecular biological diagnostics, but also an associate professor of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and General Biology of Chelyabinsk State University. But maybe there’s some direction you’re closer to?

I'm not only interested in medical aspects. The object of study of the immunogeneticists of the Chelyabinsk State University is the HLA system. This is a complex of genes located on the sixth chromosome, these genes are important for transplantation - but the HLA gene complex is "an excellent tool and an indispensable marker of population immunogenetics," as scientists say. By studying the diversity of HLA genes in a given population, one can assume about their ethnogenesis, connections with other ethnic groups, and immunogenetic differences.

Tell us more about teaching, about your students.

I am a professor at Chelyabinsk State University. Graduates of our department, my students - biologists, who graduated from the university with a degree in microbiology, immunology and general biology, are excellent specialists for work in any clinical diagnostic laboratories.

How do you see the future of transfusiology?

I see no future for transfusiology: when we learn how to adjust the genome to radically cure any disease, donor blood and its components will not be needed. Either we will learn to grow the organs and tissues in test tubes, or regenerate our own tissues. Why do we need donors then? But this is our distant future. In the meantime, we need donor blood for another 40-50 years. And then we’ll move on to another level of support for the human body.

And our traditional question: what would you wish donors and those who are just about to join the donor program?

Don’t wait, just go and do it! Of course, you will help someone - either survive, or get more oxygen, or survive a difficult operation. In any case, after the donation, you will become a happy person.

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