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ASTS–Veloxis Rising Stars in Transplantation Surgery Award 2018 Recipients

ASTS gratefully acknowledges Veloxis Pharmaceuticals for their sponsorship of the 2018 Rising Stars in Transplantation Awards.

Vatche G. Agopian, MD
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA 

Synopsis: I am a surgeon-scientist with a strong research interest pertaining to all aspects of liver transplantation (LT), with a particular focus on patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). I have dedicated my clinical and translational research efforts to examine the outcomes of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) undergoing LT, and to explore avenues for improving the care and selection of these patients for transplantation. This focus has inspired our recent establishment of the US Multicenter HCC Transplant Consortium, a collaborative of 20 US transplant centers examining the impact of pretransplant radiological, laboratory, locoregional treatment, and explant pathologic factors on post-LT cancer outcomes in a cohort of 5,000 patients with HCC undergoing LT. In parallel with our clinical outcomes investigations, my translational research efforts have focused on the development of biomarkers to improve the care of patients across all stages of HCC. My research group has utilized in-vitro molecular diagnostics (IVMD) technologies to develop circulating tumor cells (CTCs) as a novel biomarker in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) that will aid with prognosticating patients with HCC and to ultimately guide personalized therapeutic decisions. The incorporation of molecular information from circulating tumor cells to the existing clinical and radiologic data has the potential to transform the current paradigm of transplant candidate selection for patients with HCC.

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Matthew H. Levine, MD, PhD
University of Pennsylvania

Synopsis: My initial research program utilized a wealth of proprietary knockout mice and histone deacetylase (HDAC)-specific drugs focusing on limiting ischemia reperfusion injury (IRI) by manipulation of HDACs. This work has garnered support from the NIH/NIDDK and we have identified a specific HDAC molecule and have identified its regulation of multi-protein repressor complexes, as a pathways of interest in renal ischemia mitigation. This work is foundational in understanding the epigenetic impact of ischemic injury with the possibility of clinical translation. The techniques generated to study ischemia have been adapted to my second area of interest, which is the role of sex hormones in IRI mitigation. My lab defined a significant protective effect from estrogen administration and demonstrated a human correlate in renal transplantation. This work has immediate and testable translational potential, and we have implemented a randomized clinical trial at Penn using estrogen peri-operatively to mitigate renal IRI in transplantation. These findings have the potential to yield direct clinical intervention in renal ischemia both within and outside of transplantation. A third major thrust of my research efforts has been on the immunology of vascularized composite tissue transplantation (VCA). As the murine component of a Department of Defense (DOD) consortium grant, we have generated significant data on Tregs in VCA, immune tolerance, and the role of donor bone marrow in VCA immunology. In addition to the basic science of VCA, I have collaborated with Scott Levin, who has developed the clinical VCA program, to assist in all facets of two adult and one pediatric bilateral upper extremity transplant recipients. The pediatric case was the first successful limb transplant in a child in the world. My profile in VCA transplantation continues to grow alongside the Penn program, which has become one of the more clinically active programs in recent years. My research role is matched by a significant clinical role in liver, kidney and pancreas transplantation in adults and children and I have recently become surgical co-director of transplantation at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I attribute a significant degree of my success to my close research collaborator, Wayne Hancock, as well as my clinical partners in transplantation and the leadership of the Penn Transplant Institute and the Department of Surgery at Penn who have facilitated an environment conducive to new discovery in transplantation.