Transplant Fellow Receives Prestigious Award

June 2016

Michael Berger, MD, PhD, a second year abdominal transplant surgery fellow of the Emory Department of Surgery, is one of the two youngest recipients to ever receive the Richard Drachter Award of the German Association for Pediatric Surgery (GAPS). The award recognizes the importance of Dr. Berger's investigations of hepatoblastoma, the most common but alternately rare form of liver cancer in very young children.

GAPS has bestowed the Drachter Award every two years since 1974 for outstanding scientific work in pediatric surgery, and is named for one of Germany's most inluential pediatric surgeons. Dr. Drachter was chief surgeon of University Children's Hospital in Munich for 21 years—he joined the institution in 1914—and pioneered various pediatric urological procedures.

Berger received his MD and PhD at Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich. During his pediatric surgery residency at Dr. von Hauner Children's Hospital, Munich, Berger did a surgical internship at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, and a clinical and postdoctoral research fellowship in pediatric surgery at Virgen del Rocío Childrens Hospital, Seville, Spain. He came to Emory after completing a pediatric endosurgery fellowship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Having a primary interest in pediatric cancer and its interaction with the human immune system, Berger began publishing scientific articles in 2007 and often focused on the identification of novel therapeutic targets in pediatric liver cancers. Two of these studies have proved influential in the field of hepatoblastoma research and helped trigger his scientific recognition.

"Hepatoblastoma Cells Express Truncated Neurokinin-1 Receptor and can be Growth Inhibited by Aprepitant In Vitro and In Vivo," published in the Journal of Hepatology, May 2014, described the potential promise of targeting certain multidrug resistant protein receptors that are pivotal in the development of hepatoblastoma with aprepitant, a novel medication that contains natural antagonists to these receptors.

The second study, "Targeting the Neurokinin-1 Receptor Compromises Canonical Wnt Signaling in Hepatoblastoma," printed in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, December 2015, revealed the molecular mechanisms behind the successful inhibition of tumor development that the prior study examined, lending additional support to pursuing these discoveries further to develop new therapeutic interventions.   

Having established a firm footing in research, Berger's goal is to improve the lives of children that suffer from liver cancer and other hepatobiliary disorders, and he views his Emory transplant fellowship as essential to reinforcing the clinical side of his specialty. "My time at Emory continues to be fruitful," he says, "and will absolutely serve to broaden my surgical skill set so that I can resect these tumors in children in the future."

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