Cardiothoracic Research and Clinical Trials

The UPMC Esophageal and Lung Institute conducts research in a number of key areas. Some research focuses on providing alternative sources for organs and reducing or eliminating the need for organ transplantation.

UPMC, in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, enjoys global recognition as one of the world’s most active facilities for heart and lung transplantation and cardiac-assist devices.

Our investigators are constantly researching new therapies and procedures to help those with cardiothoracic diseases and disorders.

Key Areas of Research

Artificial organs

UPMC implanted the nation’s second Jarvik Artificial Heart in a patient as a bridge to transplantation in 1985. Five years later, through our Artificial Heart Program, UPMC became the first health care facility in the world to discharge a patient with a newly implanted ventricular assist device (VAD).

Since then, our highly experienced, specialized surgeons have implanted VADs in approximately 1,300 people with heart failure.

VAD implantation has provided a chance at renewed life for critically ill patients suffering from acute congestive heart failure or cardiogenic shock.

Already pioneers in the development of new and innovative artificial heart technology, researchers at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine are expanding their horizons and developing artificial systems that can take over for failing lungs and livers as well.

Like VAD technology, these systems will one day act as a bridge to transplantation as people await their new lungs or liver. They may even serve as a bridge to recovery, allowing organs to heal while the device is temporarily in place. Still others may benefit permanently from an implantation of one of these systems, eliminating the need for an organ transplant altogether.

Cell therapies and regenerative medicine

UPMC researchers and physicians are actively exploring the discipline of regenerative medicine and cell therapy. This field of research focuses on developing technology that will allow physicians to simply infuse young, healthy cells into a diseased organ rather than replacing it with a whole new one through transplantation surgery.

A recognized pioneer in regenerative medicine, the McGowan Institute develops and transfers scientific research and innovative clinical protocols while pursuing rapid FDA authorization for commercialization of its technologies.

This rapidly emerging and expanding field of research seeks to address diseases and disorders through:

  • Tissue engineering
  • Artificial medical devices
  • Stem cell research
  • Combination therapies

Regenerative medicine-based therapeutics are currently in use or in clinical trials to address many diseases, including:

  • Liver disease
  • Heart failure
  • Orthopaedic injuries
  • Organ failure
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases

Recipient-Donor Immune Responsiveness Post-Lung Transplant

The UPMC Lung Transplant Program is one of the most active and innovative in the nation. We continue to pursue advancements to improve patients’ quality of life after lung transplantation. Dysfunction of the implanted lung due to rejection gets worse over time and cannot be reversed. This injury can result in lung failure.  

Our goal is to identify lung graft injury and dysfunction after transplantation in the early stages, so we can perform the proper interventions. The UPMC Division of Lung Transplant/Lung Failure conducts research to identify and quantify biological markers of graft rejection. We use blood, fluid, and tissue samples to detect biological signals that may reflect the body’s rejection of the transplanted lung. We offer numerous clinical trials that can test for:

Increasing the Donor Pool for Lung Transplantation

To help the largest possible number of patients on the lung transplant waiting list, the UPMC Lung Transplant Program aims to increase the volume of viable lungs available for transplantation. The UPMC ex vivo lung perfusion (EVLP) Program increases the pool of available donor lungs, leading to shorter average wait times for transplant candidates.

Our program also assesses whether patients without a history of Hepatitis C can be transplanted with a Hepatitis C-positive lung(s) and effectively treated for Hepatitis C after transplantation. Transplanting Hepatitis C-positive lungs is a protocol that is now standard of care for lung transplant patients who are willing to accept risk associated with receiving these lungs.