Barnes-Jewish Hospital: A Lung Transplant Pioneer for 25 Years

Last summer, Barnes-Jewish Hospital celebrated the 25th year of its pioneering lung transplant program, one of the first dedicated programs in the country. The Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Lung Transplant Program performed its first successful adult transplant on July 17, 1988; since its inception, the program's thoracic surgeons have performed more than 1,300 transplants, making the hospital's transplant program one of the busiest in the country.

Among those surgeons performing the some 50-60 transplants each year is G. Alexander Patterson, MD, a thoracic surgeon who took part in the first-ever successful lung transplant at the University of Toronto in 1983. Since joining Washington University and Barnes-Jewish in 1991, he has helped to develop and mature the lung transplant program, attracting surgeons from around the world to Barnes-Jewish for training.

Dr. Patterson, who serves as the surgical director of the lung transplant program, attributes a great deal of the program's success over the last 25 years to the ability of the surgeons to translate research into clinical innovation. "I think what distinguishes our program is an outstanding commitment to research and to taking what we've learned in the laboratory and applying it to patient care,” he says. “It's a remarkable accomplishment for the program to achieve the success and innovation that has occurred over the last 25 years."

Some of its many innovations to come out of the program include the development of the sequential bilateral lung transplant — the transplantation of each lung separately. It was also the first program in the country to perform a single lung transplant for certain conditions such as pulmonary hypertension and the first in Missouri to perform a simultaneous heart and lung transplant.

The previous three decades have brought greater standardization of lung transplants, which means better outcomes for patients, says Dr. Patterson, but, "that's not to say there's not new and exciting developments, or opportunities for improvement."  

What exciting developments are on the horizon? Earlier this month, the FDA approved the use of technique called ex vivo perfusion that allows transplant surgeons assess the viability of donor lungs by hooking them up to a circuit-like system that perfuses the lung tissue with blood to see how it responds. This technique is being used in Europe, but in the U.S., surgeons have had rely on observation to evaluate potential donor lungs, meaning some viable lungs are incorrectly deemed inappropriate and passed up.

"Lots of patients die while on the lung transplant waiting list, and there are some recent developments that may allow us to use donor lungs we could have never used before," explains Dr. Patterson.

In a field that's just 30 years old, the program's silver anniversary milestone is a noteworthy accomplishment. And, it's likely the next 25 will bring even more innovation and lives saved.


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