Focus on Innovation

The Comprehensive Transplant Institute

By Charles Buchanan

Med-Sum12-Mosaic7

UAB has one of the country’s largest and busiest transplant programs, encompassing kidney, heart, liver, lung, and pancreas transplants. The task of the new Comprehensive Transplant Institute (CTI) is to help ensure that it remains one of the best.

“We want one organizational structure so that everyone involved in transplant care is working together,” says Devin E. Eckhoff, M.D., director of the CTI and the Division of Transplantation and holder of the Arnold G. Diethelm Endowed Chair for Transplantation Surgery. Clinicians and researchers in a wide range of specialties, from surgery, nephrology, and hepatology to immunology, pathology, and infectious diseases, will “speak a common language” and take a big-picture approach that could help donors and recipients before, during, and long after the transplant procedure, he explains. For example, scientists and physicians could develop methods of identifying and preventing donor-derived infections—as well as more effective post-transplant immunosuppressive drugs and clinical approaches to improve continuity of care. A research acceleration fund, pilot grants, and other support will help projects like these get off the ground.

The CTI will encourage the development of new programs. “We want to maximize every potential donor we get and transplant more individuals,” Eckhoff says. Novel initiatives include incompatible transplantation (transplants between donors and recipients with different blood types), paired kidney donation (swaps), and transplants for HIV-positive patients. “With our reputation, history, and size, we should be on the cutting edge of offering new therapies so that patients don’t have to travel out of state,” says CTI co-director Robert S. Gaston, M.D., medical director of the UAB kidney transplantation program and holder of the Endowed Professorship in Transplant Nephrology.

Creation of the CTI should also enable UAB “to identify needs and pull resources together to help recruit people of value to the program,” Gaston explains. New faculty will expand UAB’s expertise in transplant immunology, transplant pathology, and outcomes research, which will have a direct impact on patient care.

The CTI, which will be phased in over a couple of years, has already hosted its first national symposium on transplant immunology and opened a new Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Clinic. Gaston and Eckhoff say they are excited by the possibilities. “The places that want to be leaders are transitioning to this model,” says Gaston, who is immediate past president of the American Society of Transplantation. “We’re building a structure that will keep UAB at the forefront of solid organ transplantation research and clinical care.”