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The Past and Future of Transplant Medicine

In 1964, the second organ transplant in the state of Illinois was performed at Passavant Memorial, one of the predecessors of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. (Passavant merged with Wesley Memorial in 1972 to become Northwestern Memorial.) Transplant surgery was still brand new; little was understood about the complications of transplant or even exactly where to place the transplanted organs in the recipients’ bodies. 

John J. Bergan, MD, performed Passavant’s first transplant. In 1970, Dr. Bergan and his team reached another milestone when they performed Chicago’s first pancreas transplant. At that time, the longest-living pancreas transplant recipient had lived for 14 months, which was a typical life expectancy for transplant patients and dialysis patients. Infections and rejection of the transplanted organ were common. 

But in the 1980s, the drug cyclosporine was developed to help prevent organ rejection. While cyclosporine has serious side effects, it helped make organ transplantation a more viable option for many transplant patients. 

The 1990s brought important changes to Northwestern Memorial. Frank Stuart, MD, was recruited to become the chief of the comprehensive transplant center, with a goal to expand the kidney transplant program and build liver and pancreas transplant programs. In turn, Dr. Stuart recruited Michael Abecassis, MD, MBA, and other physicians who were dedicated to meeting the needs of a growing patient population. 

Dr. Abecassis heads the current Northwestern Comprehensive Transplant Center, which emphasizes both patient care and innovative research through its MATRIX methodology. The center’s research focuses on four primary areas: 

Immune Tolerance – Reducing or even eliminating the need for anti-rejection medication
Biomarker Discovery – Using genome sequence to help predict patients’ reactions to treatment
Outcomes Research – Comparing the effectiveness of different treatments 
Engineered Tissues – Growing and repairing organs and tissue.

Patient care and research advance together at the Northwestern Comprehensive Transplant Center.
Dr. Abecassis says, “Research is essential and necessary to advancing in any field. Research has to be viewed as an investment where the return on the investment is improving people’s health.” 

Click here to donate to the Northwestern Comprehensive Transplant Center. For more information about philanthropic opportunities in transplant medicine, please contact Ann Murray, Philanthropy Director at Northwestern Memorial Foundation, via email or at 312.926.7073.