The research group led by Professor Karl Lemström aims to develop personalised targeted therapies and model disease mechanisms in heart and lung transplantation patients. Lemström is professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Helsinki and head of department at the Helsinki University Hospital Heart and Lung Center.
“Our research focuses on investigating the mechanisms underlying ischemia-reperfusion injury, acute rejection and chronic dysfunction, as well as the adverse effects of immunosuppressive medication,” Lemström explains.
Cardiopulmonary diseases are among the most common causes of death in the Western world. As surgical techniques and immunosuppressive drugs have evolved, heart and lung transplants have become an efficacious form of treatment for many patients suffering from severe circulatory or respiratory failure. However, organ transplants may be damaged.
Transplants are transported refrigerated. Restoring circulation to them may result in an ischemia-reperfusion injury or even immediate dysfunction. For the time being, there are no biological markers available to assess individual need for immunosuppressive drugs or to prevent rejection without adverse effects.
“Based on our experimental observations, such immediate cellular and tissue damage as well as a systemic inflammation response may induce acute rejection,” Lemström states.
Furthermore, a chronic low-grade inflammation in the transplanted organ – chronic rejection – may lead to the development of coronary artery disease in heart transplants and airway obstruction in lung transplants. This, in turn, will result in the premature loss of the transplanted organ and, eventually, in the death of the patient.
The group is developing novel forms of examination and treatment for the prognosis, diagnostics and treatment of ischemia-reperfusion injury, acute rejection and chronic organ transplant dysfunction associated with heart and lung transplants, which will significantly improve patients’ long-term prognoses and reduce treatment costs.
“This grant enables us to utilise next-generation methods in molecular medicine and to hire more researchers,” Lemström says.