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Researchers Awarded Grant to Study Liver Transplant Rejection

by Maggie Rotermund on 10/29/2018
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The Mid-America Transplant Foundation has awarded a Clinical Innovation grant to Saint Louis University School of Medicine researchers to develop new methods for detecting rejection in liver transplant patients.

Ajay Jain

Ajay Jain, M.D., is a SLUCare pediatric hepatologist and gastroenterologist and the medical director of the pediatric liver transplant program at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. Photo by Ellen Hutti.

The team received a two-year grant of $161,173 to measure Cytokeratin 18 (CK-18) as a biomarker for rejection in liver transplantation.

Principal investigator Ajay Jain, M.D., is a SLUCare pediatric hepatologist and gastroenterologist and the medical director of the pediatric liver transplant program at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital.

Chintalapati Varma, M.D., a SLUCare transplant surgeon, associate professor in abdominal transplant and surgical director of pediatric liver transplantation, and Caroline Meyer, M.D., a SLUCare pediatric gastroenterologist, will serve as co-investigators.

While liver transplantation remains a highly successful procedure, it can result in the complication of cellular rejection, Jain said. Rejection can contribute to transplant failure. The current standard method for diagnosing rejection is a liver biopsy, which is a surgical procedure.

Inspired by a wish to reduce painful and invasive liver biopsies, the team is seeking to create a blood test to make the same rejection determination.

The team will test the ability of protein component CK-18 to accurately detect rejection. The study will prospectively measure CK-18 levels and compare it to the liver rejection activity index scores to develop a robust, non-invasive biomarker for liver transplant rejection.

The CK-18 level will be assessed in blood samples obtained in post-transplant patients undergoing standard post-op treatment for evaluation of rejection.  

“We expect a strong correlation between the severity of hepatic rejection and CK-18 levels,” Jain said. “We believe our hypothesis has sound foundations, strongly supported by current understanding of rejection and CK-18 as a noninvasive biomarker.”

Mid-America Transplant Foundation

In support of Mid-America Transplant, the Foundation seeks to reduce the need for organ and tissue transplantation; increase the availability of organs and tissues for those who need them; and to improve the lives of recipients and donor families. It strives to save and heal lives in the communities we serve through programs and partnerships that impact organ and tissue donation.

Saint Louis University School of Medicine

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.