Bringing together surgery and immunology, Andrew Adams, MD, PhD, joins the Department of Surgery at the University of Minnesota Medical School to address two of the most important problems facing the field of transplantation today — an insufficient supply of available organs and the limited lifespan of those organs after transplant surgery.

“There are very few institutions that have the unique blend of outstanding basic science in immunology coupled with a rich history and legacy in transplant surgery. It is a wonderful opportunity to come to the University of Minnesota and establish collaborations with world renowned scientists and clinicians to hopefully accelerate our understanding of the immune response to transplanted tissues and organs and develop new and more effective treatments,” said Dr. Adams, who is now a professor and the John S. Najarian Surgical Chair in Clinical Transplantation in the Department of Surgery.

Dr. Adams comes from Emory University Medical School, where he earned his medical degree, before completing his residency at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. He returned to Emory University following residency to complete a transplant fellowship and later joined their faculty. There, he established an innovative translational research lab focused on developing cutting-edge technologies that improve patient care and outcomes for transplant patients. He will continue this research in his new lab at the Medical School, bringing with him three different grants cumulatively worth $11.7 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Our work focuses on two major problems in transplantation — there are not enough organs for those who actually need a transplant, and then when someone is fortunate enough to receive a transplanted organ, those organs don’t last as long as we would like them to,” Dr. Adams said. “I’m excited about working with people here who are already making significant contributions to the field of transplantation — both the clinical team as well as on the research side.”

One NIH grant focuses on xenotransplantation, or the transplantation of live cells, tissues or organs from non-human animal sources into a human patient. A better understanding of these types of transplant opportunities could help lower a staggering statistic — 10 patients die each day while on the waiting list for life-saving organ transplants, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Another NIH grant focuses more on when people do get an organ transplant, we hope to avoid rejection of the new organ, where the immune system of the patient tries to destroy the transplanted organ because it considers it foreign,” Dr. Adams said. “When this happens, it can be very subtle and difficult to distinguish from other processes such as dehydration or infection.  It typically requires an invasive biopsy procedure, which carries its own risks, to determine what is the next step in treatment.”

Dr. Adams’ NIH grant focuses on developing non-invasive methods to determine if the body is rejecting the transplanted organ by using imaging technologies, like positron emission tomography scans, to evaluate if immune cells have infiltrated that organ — a sign of rejection. 

His third NIH grant is investigating novel drug development for liver and kidney transplant patients that would not only increase the immune system’s tolerance level for the new organs but also increase the organ’s lifespan. Today’s immunosuppression medications take a toll on the transplanted organ itself and increase a patient’s risk of infection, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“Finding new drugs that target the immune system more directly and train it to accept the transplanted organ may reduce the need for immunosuppression medications long-term,” Dr. Adams said. “Coupling innovations like this between immunology and surgery, we can ensure more people receive a transplant when they need one. Looking back over the last 50 years on what has already been accomplished in transplantation, I am excited about what we can accomplish moving forward to help even more patients with end stage organ failure.”

Beyond his academic and research roles, Dr. Adams joins University of Minnesota Physicians as a transplant surgeon and as executive medical director for the transplantation service line for the M Health Fairview partnership.