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Thomas E. Starzl, M.D., Ph.D.

Thomas E. Starzl, M.D., Ph.D.

New Scientific Director Of Starzl Transplant Institute Plans New Research Program Using Jellyfish To Study Immune Tolerance

Extensive renovation of labs also being planned

PITTSBURGH, December 7, 2005 — At the helm as scientific director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute for just three months, already, Fadi Lakkis, M.D., plans to develop a new program that will make use of a small marine animal in the jellyfish family as a model for studying the mechanisms of organ rejection and immune tolerance and will be renovating existing lab space in order to enhance communication among the institute’s various research groups. His plans reflect a new way of thinking, he says, that of “thinking outside of the box.”

Dr. Lakkis, who collaborates with Leo W. Buss, Ph.D., and Stephen Dellaporta, Ph.D., at his former institution, Yale University, is one of a small number of scientists working with jellyfish – which have no liver, kidneys or heart – to help gain understanding of organ transplantation’s immunological challenges.

As scientific director of the Starzl Transplantation Institute, Dr. Lakkis, who also is professor of surgery and immunology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, oversees Pitt’s internationally renowned transplant research program. While most of his work is focused on academic and research endeavors, including pursuit of his own studies, Dr. Lakkis, a nephrologist, also devotes a percentage of his time to clinical practice, managing the medical care of post-transplant kidney recipients at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center .

“I came to the University of Pittsburgh in large part because of my utmost respect for the research faculty here and their important contributions to the field. And of course, Tom Starzl was a key reason, and I am honored to have the opportunity to carry on the legacy he has created and to help sustain the quality research for which this institution is known,” says Dr. Lakkis.

“My goals as scientific director are no different than those that have been at the core of the Starzl Transplant Institute. Specifically, I hope that we can better understand the process of and predictors for rejection, develop safe methods for inducing immune tolerance of transplanted organs and overcome the immunological barriers to successful xenotransplantation. But in order to achieve these goals we must think outside the box. It requires our collective talent, not individual teams working in silos. It necessitates tearing down any barriers, both figuratively and literally, that would otherwise impede cross communication and progress,” he explains.

Architectural plans have been drawn that would allow for an open design – similar to the innovative laboratory design inside the new Biomedical Science Tower 3 – that would accommodate more researchers than the existing floor plan and would facilitate unobstructed teamwork. Renovations of the space, located in Pitt’s first Biomedical Science Tower, will include room to house the small marine animal model that Dr. Lakkis will use for his research.

Dr. Lakkis officially joined the Starzl Transplant Institute on Sept. 1 from Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., where he had been associate professor of medicine and immunobiology and director of transplant medicine since 2001. Prior to Yale, he was on the faculty of Emory University in Atlanta, from 1992 to 2001. He received the 1996 Young Investigator Award of the Transplantation Society, the 1999 Wyeth-Ayerst Young Investigator Award given by the American Society of Transplantation (AST), and in 2002, the Young Investigator Award of the American Society of Nephrology. That same year he was elected a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation. From 2001 to 2004, he served a term as a councilor of the American Society of Transplantation.

He has contributed in many ways to the scientific literature and served as associate editor of the Journal of Immunology from 2000 to 2004.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute is named in honor of transplant pioneer Thomas E. Starzl, M.D., Ph.D., who performed the world’s first liver transplant in 1963. The institute is world renowned for its cutting-edge research contributions and sheer volume of experience. Since 1981, nearly 12,000 transplants have been performed at the University of Pittsburgh, a single-center experience unmatched by any other program in the world.

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