Brendan Lovasik Chosen for 2018 ASTS Resident Scientist Scholarship

March 2018

Brendan Lovasik, MD, current PGY-2 general surgery resident of the Emory University School of Medicine, has been awarded the 2018 Resident Scientist Scholarship of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS). He received the $40,000, one-year grant on the strength of his proposal, "Improving Xenograft Outcomes: Exploring Novel Molecular Targets and Developing Translational Therapies."

The ASTS Resident Scientist Scholarship supports full-time basic science and translational research in the field of transplantation and transplant immunobiology in the laboratory of an ASTS member. In July 2018, Dr. Lovasik will begin a research sabbatical in the laboratory of Emory transplant surgeon-scientist Andrew Adams, MD, PhD, with whom he will conduct the study.

"I plan to continue the substantial legacy established by prior Emory recipients of this grant," says Dr. Lovasik. "These include current PGY-3 resident Steven Kim; former residents Douglas Anderson, now an Emory transplant surgery fellow, and Walter Wakwe, an Emory cardiothoracic surgery fellow; and current Emory Surgery faculty Kenneth Cardona, Raymond Lynch, and William Kitchens."

This is the second national research award Dr. Lovasik has received since enrolling at Emory. In 2017, he won the American Transplant Congress Young Investigator Award, which supported his presentation of an abstract at the 2017 ATC meeting.

Dr. Lovasik's study will address the two principal barriers blocking the use of xenotransplantation—the transplantation of living cells, tissues, or organs from one species to another—as a mode of kidney transplant in humans: hyperacute rejection due to pre-formed antibodies against nonhuman donor cell markers, and acute rejection initiated by recipient lymphocytic, cell-mediated response.

Dr. Lovasik and Dr. Adams will begin by transplanting newly developed, genetically modified and optimized porcine donor kidneys into rhesus macaques to examine whether the organs mitigate the rejection process. The standard antigens that exist in porcine organs and attract recipient antibodies have been eliminated in the optimized organs. They will then examine the outcome of transplanting the optimized porcine kidneys in combination with costimulatory blockade agents into a nonhuman primate model (NHP).

The final phase of the study will explore the T cell-derived lymphocytic response to xenotransplanted donor organs through analysis of the CD4+/CD8+ T cells that mediate rejection. Drs. Lovasik and Adams will evaluate the impact of CD4+ and CD8+ T cell-directed depletion immunosuppressive regimens in NHP recipients combined with the transplant of porcine donor kidneys that have been optimized by deleting the swine antigens that stimulate T-cell response.  

"Xenotransplantation has the potential to dramatically increase the donor organ supply to provide more patients with a new kidney," says Dr. Lovasik. "It is our hope that this study will find these novel strategies to be highly effective and worthy of further development to achieve this end."

Dr. Lovasik will be presented with the ASTS award at the 2018 American Transplant Congress on June 3 in Seattle, WA.

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