2019 ASTS Recognition Award Recipients

Francis Moore Excellence in Mentorship in the Field of Transplantation Surgery Award

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Timothy L. Pruett, MD
University of Minnesota

Dr. Pruett received his medical degree from the Baylor College of Medicine, General Surgery and Transplantation training at the University of Minnesota and Internal Medicine residency at the University of Michigan. He has his Boards from the ABS in General Surgery and Critical Care and from the ABIM in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases.

He began his clinical career at the University of Virginia rising from Assistant Professor of Surgery (1987) to Professor of Surgery and Division Chief of Transplantation Surgery by 1996. He was appointed the Strickler Family Professor of Transplantation in 1997. He was the Program Director of the transplantation training program at University of Virginia. As an intensivist, he was co-director of the surgical ICU and established and was Program Director of the Critical Care Training program. In 2009, he moved to the University of Minnesota as Professor of Surgery and Internal Medicine, Chief of Transplantation and the John S. Najarian Surgical Chair in Clinical Transplantation.

He is the Past President of American Society of Transplant Surgeons (2016-2017) and previously served as Treasurer (2012-2015). He chairs the ASTS/AST joint committee for Biovigilance and has spoken broadly on legal and system issues that impact to organ transplantation within global healthcare systems. He is currently Treasurer of the International Council for Commonality in Blood Banking Automation. Dr. Pruett was President of United Network for Organ Sharing (2008-2009), Chair of the Membership and Professional Standards Committee (2007-2008), and has represented UNOS in multiple international initiatives.

His research interests have included organ transplantation in patients with chronic viral diseases, the ethics and practice of live kidney donation and allocation, transmissible diseases through organs and infections after organ transplantation. He also has education and infection interests as they pertain to the care of the critically ill.

ASTS–Veloxis Rising Stars in Transplantation Surgery Award

ASTS gratefully acknowledges Veloxis Pharmaceuticals for their sponsorship of the 2019 Rising Stars in Transplantation Awards.

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Paulo N. Martins, MD, PhD, FAST, FACS, FEBS
University of Massachusetts

Dr. Martins is a multi-visceral transplant surgeon and scientist at the University of Massachusetts. He was trained in Brazil, Germany, and USA. He obtained his PhD at the University of Berlin and he did post-doc fellowship at the BWH/MGH (Harvard) and clinical transplant fellowship at the MGH.  His laboratory focuses on transplant immunobiology and his main interest has been on organ preservation/ischemia reperfusion injury/graft treatment since he started his PhD in transplant immunology 16 years ago. His work on the pathophysiology of ischemic cholangiopathy of DCD donor livers led him to obtain the ASTS Vanguard award in 2016. Currently, his project is on liver machine perfusion preservation. They are trying to find innovative ways to mitigate liver damage and organ repair by means of gene silencing with small interfering RNAs (RNA interference) inside nanoparticles during liver machine perfusion preservation. This pioneering research allowed him to obtain the 2018 Rising Star Award of the International Liver Transplant Society (ILTS), among other awards for him and his mentees; and a patent application. RNA interference (RNAi) is a natural process of post-transcriptional gene regulation that has raised a lot of attention culminating with the Nobel prize in Medicine in 2006. This year the first RNAi -based drug was approved by the FDA and now RNAi has a transformative potential in pharmacotherapy for many diseases/processes. Among its advantages are: target-gene therapy, no need for viral vectors, transitory effect (duration can be adjusted depending of the associated conjugates), and minimal side-effects. In addition to basic science, Dr. Martins performs outcome research in clinical liver transplantation. The UMass transplant team pioneered the intentional use of hepatitis c positive donors (including viremic donors) into hepatitis c negative liver recipients (first in April 2016) and this was featured in the NEJM. Currently, Dr. Martins has 75 peer-reviewed publications and 15 book chapters.

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Parsia A. Vagefi, MD, FACS
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Parsia A. Vagefi, MD, FACS graduated with a B.A. in Biology from Johns Hopkins University, followed by medical school at Yale. During medical school, Dr. Vagefi was a HHMI Research Fellow at MGH under the direction of Drs. David Sachs and Kazuhiko Yamada, where he investigated large animal models of allograft and xenograft tolerance. Dr. Vagefi returned to MGH for his general surgery residency, followed by transplant surgery fellowship at UCSF where he was awarded the American Society of Transplant Surgery Novartis Fellowship in Transplantation for his clinical research with Dr. Sandy Feng, investigating operational tolerance in recipients of simultaneous liver and kidney transplants. In 2011 Dr. Vagefi joined the MGH staff, eventually serving as Associate Surgical Director of Liver Transplantation and Surgical Director of Living Donor Liver Transplantation. Dr. Vagefi also held and appointment as a Senior Investigator at the Center for Transplantation Sciences, establishing an effort focused on the clinical application of liver xenotransplantation- with his group having now achieved the world’s longest survival of a pig liver in a non-human primate. In January 2018 Dr. Vagefi joined the UT Southwestern team as the Division Chief of Surgical Transplantation, and currently holds the Ernest Poulos, MD Distinguished Chair in Surgery. 

ASTS–Veloxis Vanguard Prize

ASTS gratefully acknowledges Veloxis Pharmaceuticals for their sponsorship of the 2019 Vanguard Prizes.

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Burcin Ekser, MD, PhD
Indiana University

Burcin Ekser, MD, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Surgery and attending transplant surgeon in the Department of Surgery, Indiana University School of Medicine. He is currently the Director of Transplant Research and Xenotransplantation Research Lab. Dr. Ekser’s research interests include overcoming the organ shortage via xenotransplantation, xenoimmunology, genetic engineering, coagulation dysregulation, scaffold-free 3D-bioprinting of organs. His lab is also involved in drug toxicity and discovery research using 3D-bioprinted organ models. He is an active member of AST, ASTS, ESOT, ILTS, AASLD and serves as the vice-chair of Basic Science Committee of the ILTS. He published >100 peer-reviewed publications in high impact journals including, New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, Nature Reviews Nephrology, Nature Scientific Reports.

FABRICA: A Bioreactor Platform for Printing, Perfusing, Observing, & Stimulating 3D Tissues

Dr. Ekser’s research focuses on xenotransplantation and scaffold-free 3D-bioprinting of organs and organ models with their perfusion for drug toxicity and discovery research. In fact, the current study highlights the development of a bioreactor (FABRICA) which is a bioprinter-agnostic 3D-printed platform designed for 3D-bioprinted tissue construct culture, perfusion, observation, and analysis. FABRICA bioreactor was 3D-printed with biocompatible material and used to improve the survival of 3D-bioprinted constructs in different flow conditions which were ultrasonically analyzed at increasing volumetric flow rates. The current study also highlighted, for the first time in the literature, scaffold-free 3D-bioprinting of a pig liver model using genetically-engineered pig cells, and continuous perfusion of the 3D-bioprinted pig liver construct for one week.

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Daniel Zamora-Valdés, MD
Hospital Ángeles Chihuahua


Daniel Zamora-Valdés, MD is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Chihuahua and the Chihuahua Children's Hospital. He is also the founder and Surgical Director of the Abdominal Transplant Program at the Hospital Ángeles Chihuahua, currently the most productive Living Donor Liver Transplant Center in Mexico. He specializes in kidney, pancreas and liver transplantation as well as HPB surgery. He received his MD with honors from the University of Veracruz and completed a General Surgery Residency and HPB Surgery Fellowship at the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition in Mexico City. He completed an ASTS-certified Abdominal Transplant Surgery Clinical Fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and Living Donor Liver and Autoislet Transplantation Fellowship at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. He is founding member of the Mexican Chapter of the AHPBA and Level 2 member of the National System of Researchers in Mexico.

Simultaneous liver transplantation and sleeve gastrectomy improved weight loss and led to decreased rates of metabolic complications among obese patients compared with liver transplantation alone among patients with medically complicated obesity. We enrolled 74 adult patients listed for LT since 2006 with BMI of 35 kg/m2 or higher and at least one follow-up visit in an aggressive weight management protocol. At baseline, patients whose BMI decreased to less than 35 kg/m2 (n = 36) underwent LT alone and those with BMI of 35 kg/m2 or higher (n = 13) simultaneous LT and sleeve gastrectomy. Overall, while the LT-alone cohort showed no significant difference between BMI at listing and 3 years follow-up (40.06 vs. 38.53 kg/m2), BMI among patients who underwent combined LT and sleeve gastrectomy decreased significantly between baseline and follow-up (49 vs. 30.9 kg/m2; difference, –18.08;  = .001). Total body weight loss was higher in the LT-alone cohort at time of transplantation (17.7%; 95% CI, 14.1-21.3) compared with patients who underwent the combined procedure (9.1%; 95% CI, 4.5-13.7). However, patients who underwent combined LT and sleeve gastrectomy had statistically higher total body weight loss at 4 months (20.9% vs 29.6%;  P = .038), 1 year (12.1% vs. 36.3%;  P < .001), 2 years (4% vs. 34.4%;  P < .001) and 3 years (3.9% vs. 34.8%;  P < .001). At follow-up, patients in the LT-alone cohort also had a higher prevalence of hypertension (63.9% vs. 23.1%;  P = .021), higher insulin serum levels (20.1 vs. 8.6;  P < .001) and higher prevalence of hepatic steatosis (66.7% vs. 23.1%;  P = .01) compared with those who underwent the combined procedure. Long-term mortality after LT in patients with obesity before transplant has been associated with cardiovascular events. Based on these data and concern for technical challenges related to exposure, weight loss prior to LT is desirable. Given that obesity-related liver disease is now one of the most common indications for LT, a structured approach for obese transplant candidates is of increasing importance. The combined procedure is safe and effective at achieving durable weight loss with favourable metabolic parameters compared with LT alone.

ASTS–Veloxis Advanced Transplant Provider Award

ASTS gratefully acknowledges Veloxis Pharmaceuticals for their sponsorship of the 2019 Advanced Transplant Provider Award.

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Katherine J. Klingenberg, MMS, PA-C
University of Colorado School of Medicine

Katherine J. Klingenberg, MMS, PA-C is a Senior Instructor and lead physician assistant for the inpatient transplant surgery service at the University of Colorado Hospital. After graduating from the Midwestern University Physician Assistant Program with Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Masters in Surgery, Katherine started her career as a physician assistant at Johns Hopkins Hospital where she completed the Physician Assistant Surgical Residency with honors. After completing residency, she was hired as a physician assistant in the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center. While in this role, she thrived in the clinical and research arenas.

Katherine welcomed the opportunity to move back to her home state of Colorado to be the first advanced practice provider on the University of Colorado transplant surgery team. Over the last two years, she has built a team of six advanced practice providers who have revolutionized inpatient, outpatient and operative care of this complex patient population. In 2017, she was awarded the Transplant Shining Star Award for her work to change culture and dedication to the transplant program. Additionally, she was rapidly promoted to Senior Instructor in the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Through the University of Colorado Institute for Healthcare Quality, Safety, and Efficiency, Katherine is leading a new initiative to decrease utilization of the intensive care unit following liver transplant. Still early in her career, Katherine is incredibly passionate about transplant surgery and inspired to continue leading the charge in developing advanced practice providers’ role at the University of Colorado and in the field of transplantation.

ASTS Sherilyn Gordon Memorial Travel Award  

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Andrew R. Gillooly
University of Massachusetts Medical School

Andrew Gillooly is currently in his final year as a medical student at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. As he focuses on pursuing a career in surgery, he works with mentor Dr. Paulo Martins in his laboratory investigating delivery of RNA therapy during ex vivo liver machine perfusion. He has authored several peer-reviewed articles regarding their novel findings in partnership with the world renowned Umass RNA Therapeutics Institute. Before medical school, Andrew was introduced to immunology in the lab of Dr. George Tsokos at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, and worked with RNA interference as an undergraduate at Umass Amherst.

As a recipient of the Sherilyn Gordon Memorial Travel Award, Andrew hopes to network, share ideas and learn from innovative caregivers in the the field of transplantation to further his research in closing the gap between available organs and those waiting for lifesaving treatment. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, quahogging, and skiing in the White Mountains whenever possible.

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Dana L. Jakoubek, MSN, APN
University of California at San Francisco Medical Center

Dana Jakoubek is a nurse practitioner for the UCSF Liver Transplant Program. She manages the care of patients after liver transplant and simultaneous liver and kidney transplant surgery. She also co-manages the care of patients enrolled in clinical research trials focusing on immune senescence, immunosuppression minimization, and withdrawal. Born in Chicago, she earned her graduate degree in Advanced Practice Nursing at Loyola University Chicago. She has over a decade of experience working in both kidney and liver transplant in both inpatient and outpatient settings.   

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Ashley H. Seawright, DNP, ACNP-BC
University of Mississippi Medical Center

Ashley Seawright completed her BSN at Baylor University in 1997. After which time she worked as an ICU nurse until 2007, when she graduated from the University of Mississippi Medical Center with an MSN and became board certified as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. She was then hired as an instructor in the department of surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center where she serves as nurse practitioner/hospitalists for the abdominal transplant, hepatobiliary and surgical oncology division managing patients in both an inpatient and outpatient clinical setting. In 2010, Dr. Seawright completed the Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree at Johns Hopkins followed by the Business Advantage Program at Millsaps College.

In January of 2018, she was named the Advanced Transplant Provider of the year by the American Society of Transplant Surgeons. In 2017, Mississippi Nurses’ Association & Mississippi Nurses’ Foundation awarded Dr. Seawright the Advanced Practice Nurse of 2017.

Dr. Seawright serves as Executive Director of Advanced Practice Providers (APPs) and Surgical Chief of APPs for the University of Mississippi Medical Center. In addition, she is clinical director of transplant and surgical oncology. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi kidney Foundation.

Her professional and research interest include: kidney, liver, and pancreas transplantation, living donation in minority groups, health disparities and access to care, quality improvement initiatives for the transplant population, as well as early recovery after surgery initiatives.

Charles Rickert

Charles G. Rickert, MD, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital

Growing up in Peoria, Illinois, Chuck always had an interest in science and public service, but pursuing medicine and transplant surgery was not part of his early career path. His initial academic career began studying philosophy as an undergraduate student at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, before spending a year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and ultimately finishing his degree at New York University. For his work in philosophy and ethics, he received the Salomonowitz Memorial Prize for outstanding scholarship and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. During these years, he also worked as an EMT, both in New Orleans and Paris, where he was inspired to redirect his career path from Philosophy to Medicine.

Prior to beginning medical school, Chuck spent 14 months working at a children's hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where his primary work was in the care of children afflicted by tuberculosis and malnutrition.; Afterward, he started his medical studies at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in 2004. During his second year of medical school, he began studying tumor immunology with Dr. Robert Schreiber, which ultimately resulted in completion of a PhD, based on work aimed at understanding the role of the transcription factor, STAT1, in prevention of mammary adenocarcinoma.; In addition, he participated in several aspects of cancer immunology work including a novel sequencing-based method for identification of cancer antigens and the ability of check-point blockade to lead to rejection of tumors that had previously evaded immune detection.

While performing this research, Chuck was inspired by a discussion between Dr. Arthur Matas and Dr. Francis Delmonico to become a non-directed living kidney donor. Through this experience, he became very involved in the transplant community in St. Louis, MO, and spent extensive time teaching medical students and community members about transplantation and the benefits to the recipients.

Ultimately, Chuck decided to pursue a career as a transplant surgeon and has been a surgical resident at the Massachusetts General Hospital for the past 4 years. Currently, he focuses on transplant immunology work, looking at means of producing tolerance induction and xenotransplantation with Dr. James Markmann, in the MGH Center of Transplantation Sciences.

Chuck has received several awards for his scholarship and service efforts including the Kehar S. Chouke-George Gill award and the Class of 2003 Award, for outstanding academic performance in medical school and for “dedication to the highest standards in medicine," the Samson F. Wennerman prize from Washington University, MGH Resident Teaching Award in Surgery, and the AASLD Emerging Liver Scholar Award.