Pakistani-origin physician-scientist Dr. Faisal H. Cheema and his colleague Dr. Jeffrey A. Morgan at the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Heart Institute in Houston have received $4 million in funding to lead cutting-edge research on heart transplantation.
The scientists will use the award announced by the Brockman Medical Research Foundation to study the possibility of using hearts from donors after circulatory death so that the pool of donors and the number of heart transplantations can be increased worldwide.
A statement issued by the Baylor College of Medicine said that if successful the research would make heart transplants possible for thousands of patients who die while waiting for an acceptable heart to become available.
The statement noted that only 3,000 heart transplants were performed across the globe annually. “Thousands of people with end-stage heart failure who are on the waitlist for receiving a heart transplant never end up getting it.”
The two scientists and their team will conduct several studies to demonstrate the safety and feasibility of using hearts from donors after circulatory death. While other organs, including lungs, kidneys, and the liver, are procured from donors after circulatory death, there are reservations when using the heart from a donor after it has stopped beating.
Dr. Cheema, lead physician-scientist of the study, has been quoted as saying in the statement, “Only meticulously designed ex-vivo human heart studies coupled with rigorous pre-clinical in-vivo heart transplants will provide sufficient scientific evidence to guarantee a paradigm shift in the field of transplantation.
“Our primary objective is to increase the number of heart transplants that we can perform by increasing the number of available donors. Our research will investigate the safety and efficacy of a technique that has the potential to enable us to use donor hearts that are currently not used,” said Dr. Morgan, surgical director of cardiac transplantation at Baylor Medical Center.
The aim of the scientists is to devise a safe, innovative protocol whereby hearts from donors can be removed and preserved in an innovative fashion and transplanted successfully.
Hailing to the rural areas of Wazirabad and Hafizabad, Dr. Cheema had received his early education from Crescent Model School and Government College, Lahore, before moving to Karachi to study at the Aga Khan University. After graduation, he moved to the United States to train and work at Columbia University, Loyola University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, and University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Cheema has published more than 110 scientific manuscripts in high impact journals. He has served as a senator for Columbia University and is involved with several professional, academic, community and philanthropic organisations. His work for young physicians culminated in the establishment of the Committee for Young Physicians within the Association of Physicians of Pakistani-descent of North America (APPNA), on which he served for more than a decade; he also chaired APPNA.
According to a statement, Dr. Cheema’s aim is to make heart and lung transplant and artificial devices for end-stage heart failure and lung disease a reality in Pakistan. He also aspires to develop a national organ donation and allocation system for the country through strategic partnerships among academic, corporate, governmental and philanthropic institutions.