Transforming Transplant Research

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UHN awarded $24M New Frontiers grant to advance ex vivo transplant technology.
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The project will be led by Dr. Shaf Keshavjee (pictured, left) and will enable ground-breaking innovation in ex vivo technology. (Photo: Tim Fraser)

Researchers at UHN’s Ajmera Transplant Centre and Toronto General Hospital Research Institute have been awarded a transformative grant of $24 million to advance ex vivo technology to repair and rebuild organs for all patients in need.

The project, led by the Director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, is one of only seven across Canada selected to receive the prestigious New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) – Transformation funding, following a comprehensive international consultation.

“The Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion (EVLP) system we developed here in Toronto has revolutionized lung transplantation in the past decade. Now, it’s been translated around the world to increase lung transplant access and it’s being extended to other organs,” explains Dr. Keshavjee, Principal Investigator of the project, who is also UHN’s Surgeon-in-Chief and Vice Chair for Innovation, in the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto (UofT).

Over the course of this project, the team of over 20 researchers at UHN, national and international partner sites will develop sophisticated ex vivo platforms to:

● Increase organ preservation from hours to days;

● Improve the immune response and organ tolerance for transplant recipients;

● Advance precision medicine to customize organs to each individual patient’s needs;

Specific research activities include the development of gene therapy to make an organ more compatible with a recipient to prevent organ rejection by the immune system. Another example is the use of light therapies to eliminate viral or bacterial infections in donated organs so that they can be considered for transplant. The funding will also enable the team to refine and improve equitable organ allocation guidelines for all patients.

“Not only will it enable longer preservation, this research will let us treat and improve organs. It has the potential to change the paradigm in the field of transplantation,” says Dr. Marcelo Cypel, Surgical Director of the Ajmera Transplant Centre, and a co-Principal Investigator of the project.

Dr. Brad Wouters, UHN’s Executive Vice President, Science and Research, adds, "The advancements that this team has made and their continued success made possible by support from provincial and federal governments, industry partners, external charitable agencies, generous philanthropy from the UHN Foundation and our incredible patient partners. This award recognizes the tireless efforts of the team, and this support, which have been key to achieving global impact."

For more information, see the full story at UHN.ca and the official funding announcement.

Dr. Keshavjee is a founder, shareholder, and Chief Medical Officer of Traferox Technologies Inc. and a consultant for Lung Bioengineering. Dr. Cypel is a founder and shareholder of Traferox Technologies and a consultant for Lung Bioengineering.

NFRF was designed to support large-scale, Canadian-led interdisciplinary research projects with the potential to realize real and lasting change. It is under the strategic direction of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee and administered by the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat on behalf of Canada’s three research granting agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Two of the 12 co-Principal Investigators are Dr. Atul Humar (L; photo: Tim Fraser), Director of the Ajmera Transplant Centre and Professor in the Dept. of Medicine at UofT; and Dr. Siba Haykal (R; photo: Rob Caruso), Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon and Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Surgery at UofT.