Endowed chairholder searches for new understanding of lung transplant rejections

by Emily Velders • BJC Healthcare 
From BJC Today

Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman, PhD

Andrew Gelman, PhD, professor of surgery, professor of immunology and pathology, and director of the lung immunobiology laboratory at Washington University School of Medicine, was named the Jacqueline G. and William E. Maritz Endowed Chair in Immunology and Oncology during a chair installation ceremony and lecture March 26.

Endowed chairs established by donors to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital offer a critical source of funding for world-class researchers at BJH and WUSM to find better treatments that benefit patients in the community and around the world.

In 1997, Jackie and Bill Maritz established the Jaqueline G. and William E. Maritz Endowed Chair in Immunology and Oncology through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital to ensure that the lung transplant program at BJH and WUSM will always have the necessary resources to continue driving innovative research that will improve the lives of current and future generations of patients living with lung disease.

“Jackie and Bill Maritz have been dedicated community leaders in every way,” says John Lynch, MD, BJH vice president, chief operating officer and medical officer. “Together, they have created an incredible legacy.”

As the newly appointed chairholder, Gelman will fulfill the Maritz’s vision through his groundbreaking research into lung transplant rejection rates.

“As director of the lung immunobiology lab here at Washington University School of Medicine, Dr. Gelman is tirelessly working to make life better for patients,” says Dr. Lynch. “Through his lab, his goal is to better understand why lung transplant recipients have such poor survival. And he is making tremendous progress toward this effort.”

Endowed chairs make research breakthroughs possible
Patients travel from across the country and around the world to receive care from lung specialists at BJH, one of the leading lung transplant programs in the nation. In 1988, BJH became one of the first hospitals in the United States with a program fully dedicated to lung transplantation surgery. The specialists at BJH are recognized as pioneers in the development of many surgical and medical innovations for treating patients faced with advanced lung disease.

But even with the most innovative therapies and procedures, lung transplant patients survive, on average, about half as long as other solid organ transplant patients, according to Gelman. This is due to several factors, he explains, including the lung’s exposure to the external environment, which makes the transplanted organ more vulnerable to viral and fungal infections. Lung transplants also require a higher level of immunosuppression, and the available immunosuppression drugs were designed for other solid organs.

When Gelman arrived at WUSM in 2006, there was a need for a model of lung transplantation where researchers could study the underlying mechanisms of lung transplantation in a more physiologically relevant manner. “In order to increase our understanding, we needed a new approach,” he says.

With his colleagues, he developed a new model that became the standard for understanding lung transplant rejection, now used at other centers across the country. Several critical discoveries have been made with this model, including how inflammatory white blood cells enter lung transplants and create inflammatory conditions that prevent patient survival. Guided by these discoveries, Gelman’s lab is using this model to develop novel treatments that prevent tissue damage in lung transplants, including a new drug that has moved into the clinical development stage for FDA phase 1 clinical trials.

“With 94 lung transplants performed here last year, we are fourth in the nation by volume,” says Dr. Lynch. “What Dr. Gelman is discovering has implications that can help thousands of patients every year around the world.”

Gelman studied biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, obtaining his PhD in molecular and cellular immunology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is involved in several professional committees and organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, Tolerance of Tumor Review Committee, American Thoracic Society, American Association of Immunologists, International Society of Heart and Lung Transplantation, and the American Society of Transplantation. He has also held many leadership positions and is currently director of the lung immunobiology laboratory, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Department of Surgery at WUSM.

“Although I received this medal, I never would have been this successful without the many talented members of my lab, as well as the highly trained professionals at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital,” he says. “I dedicate this honor to the group effort focused on improving the lives of lung transplant recipients.”