Our mission is to train the next generation of academic cardiothoracic surgeons. To aid in this process, we are distinguished from other training programs by the quality and breadth of research efforts taking place within our divisions of cardiac and thoracic surgery.
Listed below are brief descriptions of the outstanding research labs run by our cardiothoracic faculty. You will see that opportunities exist in transplantation immunology, artificial organs, stem-cell therapies for congenital heart disease and transplantation, ex vivo lung perfusion and RNA-based therapies for esophageal cancer. These laboratories are a testimony to the driving spirit of innovation that thrives in our program. In addition, during the two-year research experience, we arrange for each resident to obtain a master’s degree in clinical research science. To date, three of our residents have already received their degrees.
Artificial Organs Laboratory
Dr. Bartley Griffith’s Artificial Organs Laboratory is an integral part of the Surgical Research labs in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery. The laboratory is a multi-disciplinary education, research and development laboratory consisting of cardiac surgeons, engineers, scientists, residents and students.
Their mission is to research and develop next-generation artificial and bio-hybrid organs that can support patients with cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, or bridge patients with chronic disease to heart and lung transplantation, and provide the basic understanding of how these devices affect the biologic system at organ, tissue, cellular and molecular levels.
The laboratory is involved in basic and applied research of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease and the fundamental technical problems associated with artificial and bio-hybrid organ development. The current research projects include development of computational fluid dynamic based modeling of blood damage, and the development of an artificial pump lung, and the investigation of left ventricular unloading with a micro LVAD following acute myocardial infarction.
Transplant Immunology Research
Dr. Richard Pierson's laboratory specializes in basic and translation research related to transplant immunology, with the following principle foci:
- Investigating the mechanisms by which costimulation pathways modulate the immune response to an allograft, a xenograft, or an infectious antigenic challenge in primates (cynomolgus monkeys or baboons). The immediate goal of this work is to prevent immune injury to, and especially “chronic rejection” of, heart grafts during treatment with highly selective costimulation pathway “immune modulators”. The long-term goal of this work is to promote induction of “immune tolerance”: permanent graft acceptance without the need for ongoing immunosuppressive medications.
- Defining the pathogenesis of initial pig lung and liver xenograft injury, using pigs genetically modified to protect them from known injury mechanisms. The influence of each genetic modification is evaluated in an ex vivo model of pig lungs perfused with human blood to identify and prevent residual injury mechanisms. Translation toward clinical application for these organs is explored by orthotopic pig lung transplant, and by paracorporeal pig liver perfusion or orthotopic liver transplantation in baboons.
Cardiac Stem Cell-Based Therapies
Dr. Sunjay Kaushal’s laboratory has an interest in developing cardiac stem cell based therapies for heart failure. They have demonstrated that the population of resident cardiac progenitor cells is greatest in the neonatal right atrium and demonstrated that they effectively improved function and reduced remodeling when injected into infracted myocardium in a rat model.
They have also demonstrated that cardiosphere-derived cells can prevent right ventricular failure in a large animal model of right ventricular pressure overload. Dr. Kaushal has recently received an investigational new drug approval from the FDA to perform the first clinical trial of cardiac stem cells in congenital heart failure patients. They are very interested in continuing to learn more about these resident cardiac stem cells and to translate them into clinically well-planned protocols.
Cell-Based Therapies for Heart and Lung Transplantation
Dr. Si Pham’s laboratory is interested in repairing and preventing injury to native and transplanted hearts and lungs. Currently they are interested in repairing damaged lungs using stem cells and other therapies. The lab is investigating the use of cell-based therapies for treating ischemia-reperfusion in animal models in-situ lung injury and lung transplantation. They are also working on preventing neointimal hyperplasia in an animal model of vascular endothelial injury.
Thoracic Surgical Research Laboratory
Dr. James Donahue's laboratory is focused on enhancing the understanding of esophageal cancer biology with an ultimate aim of identifying novel therapeutic targets.
Currently, they are focused on the study of post-transcriptional gene regulation by RNA-binding proteins and microRNAs. The lab analyzes expression of these factors in esophageal cancer cells lines and human specimens. In addition to linking their expression with patient prognosis, they utilize advanced cell biology techniques to identify their targets and determine the effects of modulating expression of individual RNA-binding proteins and microRNAs.