Transplant Immunology Research Program

Overview

The mission of the Emory Transplant Immunology Research Program is to eradicate rejection of transplanted organs, to free patients from the toxic side effects of daily immunosuppressant medicines, and to improve transplant outcomes. The multi-disciplinary program's scientists are affiliated with the Emory Transplant Center (ETC) and departments of the Emory University School of Medicine.

Dr. Christian Larsen initiated the program in 1994 with his colleague Dr. Thomas Pearson, and over time it has become one of the world's foremost transplant immunology research centers, particularly in terms of funding by the NIH and other organizations. Several of the program's current faculty investigators did their immunology research fellowships under the mentorship of Dr. Larsen, Dr. Pearson, and/or Dr. Mandy Ford (please see the list of investigators below).

In addition to its consistent portfolio of basic science and clinical studies, the immunology program administers the Emory Transplant Biorepository for Translational Science, one of the only transplant-based biorepositories in the United States. Established through the generous funding of the Georgia Research Alliance, the biorepository collects and processes biological samples from patients receiving transplant services throughout the Emory Healthcare system, then makes the samples available to Emory researchers to use in their basic, translational, and clinical research studies, creating an important tool in the pursuit of improving transplant outcomes.


Investigators

Mandy Ford, PhD

Mandy Ford, PhD

Dr. Ford, scientific director of the Emory Transplant Center, is a leading researcher of the cellular mechanisms of T cell responses in transplantation and immunosuppression. She was a vital member of Dr. Larsen and Dr. Pearson's Emory-based research team that helped develop belatacept as a successful new class of immunosuppressant. In addition to her NIH and private foundation grants as principal investigator, Dr. Ford is engaged in three R01-funded collaborative studies with Emory surgical critical care surgeon and sepsis scientist Dr. Craig Coopersmith.

Andrew Adams, MD, PhD

Andrew Adams, MD, PhD

Dr. Adam's primary research interests are the interplay between viral infection, immune memory, and the allo-immune response; defining the unique costimulatory requirements of T cells as well as their trafficking patterns; and applying novel immunosuppressive strategies in large animal xenotransplantation. His current investigations include aspects of belatacept immunosuppressive therapy. Visit the website for Dr. Adams' transplant immunology lab, which is focusing on therapeutics, diagnostics, xenotransplantation, and outcomes research related to the immune response to transplanted organs.

I. Raul Badell, MD

I. Raul Badell, MD

Prior to becoming a faculty member of the Department of Surgery in 2015, Dr. Badell's training included a two-year transplant immunology research fellowship at Emory. His clinical practice consists primarily of kidney/pancreas transplantation, while his research interests involve basic transplant immunology and clinical investigations aimed at optimizing the use of belatacept in kidney transplant recipients.

William Kitchens, MD, PhD

William Kitchens, MD, PhD

Dr. Kitchens received his PhD in transplant immunology at Emory. During his training years, he received three consecutive Young Investigator Awards from the American Transplant Congress, two Young Innovator Awards at Annual Scientific Exchange meetings of the American Society of Transplantation, and a Fellowship in Transplantation and a Roche Laboratories Scientist Scholarship from the American Society of Transplant Surgeons.

Christian Larsen, MD, DPhil

Christian Larsen, MD, DPhil

Dr. Larsen has made seminal contributions to the investigation of the immunologic mechanisms of transplant rejection and immunologic tolerance, has been funded continuously by the NIH since 1996, and is an internationally recognized leader in kidney and pancreas transplantation. He and Dr. Tom Pearson played a pivotal role in developing costimulation blockers. One such drug is belatacept, considered a less toxic alternative to standard immunosuppressants. The FDA approved the drug in the form of Nulojix for kidney transplant recipients. Dr. Larsen is now testing belatacept in clinical trials for kidney transplant, liver transplant, and pancreatic islet transplant.

William Kitchens, MD, PhD

Denise Lo, MD

Dr. Lo did her post-doctoral research fellowship in transplant immunology at Emory. She specializes in adult and pediatric liver transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery, and is interested in translating advances in the understanding of transplant immunology to clinical application.

Aneesh Mehta, MD

Aneesh Mehta, MD

Dr. Mehta is on the faculty of the Emory Department of Medicine and serves as assistant director of transplant infectious diseases at Emory University Hospital. His primary research aim is to develop predictive immunologic and virologic signatures of risk for viral diseases in patients receiving immunosuppressive agents, with the goal of developing treatment modalities to better protect and treat these vulnerable populations.

Kenneth Newell, MD, PhD

Kenneth Newell, MD, PhD

Dr. Newell is studying the mechanisms of organ rejection, is involved in efforts to further optimize belatacept, and is developing and validating immunological assays that can be used to guide and individualize immunosuppression in transplant recipients. The confirmation and endorsement of such assays could facilitate studies aimed at attaining transplantation tolerance.

Thomas Pearson, MD, DPhil

Thomas Pearson, MD, DPhil

In 1996, Dr. Pearson, Dr. Larsen, and others published an article in Nature that provided evidence that blocking one of the immune signals required for organ rejection at the time of transplantation—a process known as costimulatory blockage—promoted long-term survival of organ allografts in rodents. This finding was rapidly translated to primates at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and later to humans. These early studies laid the groundwork for belatacept, which Dr. Pearson continues to study in addition to other potential methods of transplant tolerance induction.

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