Transplant program approved

By Laura Bishop

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) recently approved the University of Chicago Hospitals’ (UCH) new lung and heart/lung transplant programs. Doctors hope to perform the first transplant some time this month.

The lung transplant program’s medical team was recruited from Loyola University Medical Center this past summer and moved to the University of Chicago in November 2005. Five physicians and eight additional team members made the switch.

Sangeeta Bhorade took the position of medical director on the new team, while Edward Garrity, who was medical director at Loyola, is serving as vice chair of clinical operations in the UCH Department of Medicine.

Bhorade said that getting approval for the new program was facilitated by the previous experience of the group. At Loyola, the team had performed over 480 transplants, with post-operation one-year survival rates well above the national average.

“UNOS approval can take up to a year, but because most of our team came over, we were able to get it by the first of ,” Bhorade said.

The application process requires extensive information, including data on each of the team members, well detailed protocols, and a review of the program’s quality. Approval usually requires 10 successful transplants, but that requirement was waived because of the team’s history.

UNOS approval is always given conditionally, and programs are constantly reviewed to ensure a continuing standard of quality.

Garrity said he was pleased with the UNOS designation and looks forward to beginning transplants as soon as possible. Currently, the team is listing patients to undergo transplants when organs are available.

“We hope to list our first patient this week,” Garrity said. “We’re actively evaluating 30 patients who are somewhere in the process.”

Since moving to the UCH, the team has been assessing and preparing patients for transplants, and continuing to care for patients who moved with them from Loyola. Extensive testing is required before a patient can be placed on the transplant list, added Bhorade.

“The program is so multidisciplinary. We’ve been dealing with our patients’ nutrition, social services, finding out if there are any cardiac issues,” Bhorade said. “There are a host of tests that need to be arranged for the candidates. We’ve been getting a system set up, to have that system in place when we start transplants.”

The lung transplant team is also in charge of performing heart and lung transplants, despite only having done a few of them. A heart-and-lung transplant requires three separate organs to go to one person, while doctors usually prefer to give them to three different patients.

While he said the team is set to begin performing transplants, Garrity noted that he would prefer to increase the size of the team to prevent overburdening existing members.

“We’d like to get one more basic scientist, an individual with a Ph.D., and at least one more clinician,” he said.

Bhorade said that the team is looking forward to the new opportunities they will have at the UCH.

“Dr. Garcia was a strong advocate of the switch,” she said, referring to Skip Garcia, the chairman of the department of medicine. “We thought it would be a good move because of the research opportunities and state of the art facilities.”

Garrity said that the main reason for the switch is the extensive knowledge base available for further research.

“The strongest thing we’ve gained is the presence of other clinicians and educators for collaborators,” Garrity said. “There is a robust research community.”

The team looks forward to further research into pulmonary diseases, as well as into inflammatory lung responses to transplanted organs. They aim to reduce organ rejection in transplant recipients.

Garcia had lobbied intensely for the team to move to the U of C. He said he is excited for the skills and opportunities the new team is bringing to the University.

With the addition of the lung transplant program, the University of Chicago now boasts one of the most extensive transplant programs in the area. The UCH also offers heart, kidney, pancreas, liver, islet cell, and multi-organ transplantation.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the program, and it’s a really wonderful opportunity for the University of Chicago to offer complete service for transplantation,” Garrity said. “They’re the only institution in town who does that. With the research background here, we think it will be a rousing success.”