The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $10 million grant to Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis (WUSM) to initiate a study on how immune cells contribute to organ rejection with the goal of improving the viability of organs post-transplant. This consists of $7.7 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH, to fund research enabling investigators to better understand the immunological basis of lung transplant rejection while the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute gave almost $2.6 million to support investigations into the immune system’s role in heart transplant rejection. Both programs are led by principal investigator Daniel Kreisel, MD, PhD.
In a WUSM-originated press release authored by Kristina Sauerwein, lung transplant patients face extraordinarily high risks for organ failure and death. The U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network reports that on average after five years of a lung transplant about 50% of the lungs still function. These numbers are considerably worse than five-year organ survival rates of about 70% for kidney transplants, heart and liver, reports MS. Sauerwein.
And these transplants are certainly critical: for example often patients facing end-state lung disease must opt for a lung transplant if possible otherwise their choices run out. According to the WUSM press release, because lungs are often exposed to environmental pathogens or air pollution, a “fragility contributes to the increased risk of chronic rejection and organ failure.”
When it comes to heart transplants, this represents one of the most viable options for end-stage heart disease, reports author Ms. Sauerwein. According to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, approximately 3,550 people received a heart transplant from a deceased donor in 2019.
The WUSM team will be leveraging these funds for intensive research ultimately, according to principal investigator Dr. Kreisel, “to improve long-term outlook for lung and heart transplant patients.” The surgical director of lung transplantation at the School of Medicines and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Dr. Kreisel emphasized, “It is our hope that through our research we will gain critical new insight into the immunological underpinnings of transplant tolerance and rejection.” He continued “Understanding how immune cells respond to transplanted organs sets the stage for developing novel therapeutic strategies to improve outcomes for transplant patients.”
The Project Leads
This funding leads to three projects that investigate various immunological elements of lung transplant tolerance. In addition to Dr. Kreisel, the research is led by Andrew Gelman, PhD, professor of surgery, and of immunology and pathology at Washington University and Jaqueline G. and William E. Maritz Endowed Chair in Immunology and Oncology. Alexander S. Krupnick, MD, professor of surgery and director of the lung transplant program at the University of Maryland.
Daniel Kreisel, MD, PhD, surgical director of lung transplantation at the School of Medicines and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, G. Alexander Patterson, MD/Mid-America Transplant Endowed Distinguished Chair in Lung Transplantation, Principal Investigator
Andrew Gelman, PhD, professor of surgery, and of immunology and pathology at Washington University and the Jaqueline G. and William E. Maritz Endowed Chair in Immunology and Oncology
Kory J. Lavine, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine , Cardiovascular Division
Wenjun Li, MD, associate professor of surgery and director of microsurgery in the Thoracic Immunobiology Laboratory (top transplant scientist worldwide)
Alexander S. Krupnick, MD, professor of surgery and director of the lung transplant program at the University of Maryland