Transplant Center Research Highlights

The Emory Transplant Center (ETC) is one of the most advanced and comprehensive transplant centers in the Southeast. Since its inception, over 6000 transplants have been performed. Ongoing research at Emory includes current studies in immune response and transplantation of the hand, islet, kidney, pancreas, liver, lung, and heart.

Immune Response

Emory Transplant physicians made significant research contributions that lead to the 2011 approval of Nulojix® (belatacept) by the US Food and Drug Administration. Belatacept is a novel drug that affects the immune system, allowing patients to better tolerate kidney transplantation. Current immune response research includes:


• Evaluating the role of T cells, which play a role in immune response, in transplant recipients in an effort to identify novel ways to improve long-term graft survival.
• Exploring ways to better understand and modulate inflammation, autoimmune disease, and transplantation rejection.
• Defining and improving long-term tolerance of transplanted tissue among transplant recipients
• Developing a novel model of graft-versus-host disease in non-human primates, the first of its kind in the world.
• Improving the immunosuppressive drugs available to help transplant recipients tolerate their new organs.
• Studying the immune response to specific types of infections in an effort to better understanding virus-associated cancers, such as polyomavirus-associated nephropathy, the leading cause of kidney transplant failure.
• Understanding players in the immune response system and identifying immune related targets for treating infectious diseases, cancer, and autoimmune disorders.
• Identifying biomarkers present in lung transplant recipients that correlate with improved clinical outcomes.
• Understanding key immune response players in the transplant rejection process.

Hand Transplantation

In March 2011 Dr. Linda Cendales performed the first hand transplant at Emory and in the Southeast at large. Hand transplantation at Emory is currently under clinical trial status and includes:

  • Evaluating hand transplantation as a therapeutic option after loss of one or both hands. Dr. Cendales is the only surgeon in the US trained in both hand microsugery and transplantation.
  • Focusing on novel immune strategies to prevent rejection post transplant.

Islet Transplantation

The ETC is part of a consortium of 11 transplant centers evaluating the safety, feasibility, and long-term outcomes of islet transplantation. Emory’s research includes:


• Identifying methods for improving islet transplantation for patients with type I diabetes.

• Achieving the long-term research goal of developing techniques for safe and durable islet cell replacement for patients with insulin-dependent diabetes.

Kidney/Pancreas Transplantation

Emory performed Georgia’s first kidney transplant and its first kidney-pancreas transplant. The kidney/pancreas program is at the forefront of research into true immune tolerance of transplanted organs. Current research includes:


• Understanding true immune tolerance in kidney transplant recipients.

• Develop new drugs that prevent rejection without the toxic side effects associated with today's immunosuppressant agents.

• Identifying methods for improving patient outcomes for pancreas transplant recipients, including the use of the drug cyclosporine, newer drugs such as anti-T-cell agents, novel surgical techniques, and the selection of healthier transplant recipients.

Liver Transplantation

In July 2009, Emory transplant surgeons were the first in the state of Georgia to perform a very rare domino liver transplant – a liver from a deceased donor is transplanted into the first recipient, and the first recipient's liver is then transplanted into a second recipient. Fewer than 100 domino liver transplants have been performed in the U.S. Emory’s research includes:


• Providing a better understanding of outcomes in patients receiving a Hepatitis C positive liver.

• Developing novel treatments for liver transplantation in HIV-positive patients and patients with cholangiocarcinoma (cancer of the bile ducts).

Lung Transplantation

As Georgia’s only lung transplant program, Emory has one of the highest lung transplant survival rates in the nation. Current research includes:


• Determining the mechanisms of rejection following lung transplantation and to develop alternative medical treatments for end-stage lung disease.

• Investigating Experimental methods for effective gene therapy.

Heart Transplantation

Emory performed Georgia’s first heart transplant, and currently offers the ventricular assist device (VAD) that is used as a bridge to transplant. Emory’s VAD program has the “Gold Seal of Approval” from The Joint Commission, and is one of only two certified programs of its kind in Georgia. Emory’s research includes:


• Improving the treatment of congenital heart disease in adult patients, including heart transplantation of adult patients with complex heart anatomy following corrective surgery (during childhood) for congenital heart diseases and the management of heart failure patients and heart transplant recipients.

• Understanding the surgical treatment of advanced heart failure.


By making a gift, you are making an immediate difference in the lives of transplant patients and their families.

You can make a gift online or if you prefer you may e-mail James P. Owen or call 404.778.5429.