Toronto (June 19, 2007) - The "father of lung transplant" along with one of the world's leading surgeons who developed thoracic surgery as a separate specialty in North America will be the recipients of University Health Network's Global Impact Awards on June 20, 2007.

This year's awards will be given to Dr. Joel Cooper who was the first surgeon in the world with his team to successfully perform a single and then a double lung transplant, and to Dr. Griffith Pearson, whose work with diseases of the trachea, esophagus and thorax led to many innovations now used around the world.

Awarded every year since 2004, the awards recognize the physicians and scientists throughout the history of University Health Network (UHN) for their creative discoveries in medical science that have had major impact worldwide.

In 1983, surgeon and scientist Dr. Cooper and his team performed the world's successful single-lung transplant at Toronto General Hospital (TGH). At that time, surgeons were transplanting hearts, livers and kidneys, but no surgeon had yet successfully transplanted a lung. In fact, only 44 lung transplants had been attempted worldwide (including several attempts at TGH) and only one patient had survived more than a few weeks. One of the major causes of failure in the procedures was poor healing of the airway when joined to the new lungs. Dr. Cooper's research revealed that the problem was not due to rejection, as had been thought, but to the anti-rejection drugs then being used. Dr. Cooper's research demonstrated that the combination of a newer anti-rejection agent and a new surgical technique to improve the healing of the airway connection could solve the problem.

The single-lung transplant was performed on Tom Hall, then 58, who was dying of a progressive lung disease called pulmonary fibrosis. After a remarkable recovery, Hall returned to work several months after his surgery. He lived for another 6 years, leading an active life, and died of kidney failure at the age of 64.

In 1986, the first successful double lung transplant in the world – lasting 5 ½ hours - was performed by Drs. Cooper and Alex Patterson and their team on Ann Harrison whose lungs had been destroyed by emphysema. Almost 15 years later, Ann, who was the world's longest-living lung transplant recipient, died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 56 in 2001. Ann was hailed as bringing in a new era for emphysema patients with her transplant, and was active in the transplant community. In 1991, she participated in the Transplant Games in Budapest, where she won a Bronze trophy.

Dr. Griffith Pearson, an appointee of the Order of Canada, Canada's highest honour for lifetime achievement, achieved international recognition as a surgeon, researcher and educator. Dr. Pearson played a key role in the establishment of thoracic surgery as a medical discipline. Toronto was one of the first programs in the world to split off the thoracic component from the larger field of cardiothoracic surgery, allowing surgeons the dedicated time and energy to study lung cancer and other thoracic procedures separately from the heart.

Dr. Pearson was among the world's first surgeons to operate on the trachea, and was widely recognized as one of the leaders in this new field. His pioneering techniques contributed to making surgery the treatment of choice for patients with tumours in this area. In fact, his work with diseases of the esophagus and thorax led to many innovations, including the 'Pearson procedure', an esophageal reflux operation now used around the world. He also contributed to the establishment of the Respiratory Intensive Care Unit at TGH where the first successful lung transplant in the world was performed, as well as the first thoracic surgical service of the University of Toronto at TGH in 1966.

The training program in Thoracic Surgery begun by Dr. Pearson and ultimately recognized by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada as a separate specialty has been a template for training programs throughout the world. The majority of graduates of this program are now international leaders in the field of general thoracic surgery and lead their own programs throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia.

Based on the work and dedication of Drs. Cooper and Pearson and their students, thoracic surgery at TGH has flourished and developed into an internationally renowned program, making seminal contributions in airway surgery, lung transplantation and lung oncology, as well as in clinical trials of lung cancer treatment. One example of the progress is the amount of time lungs can be preserved safely while waiting for a transplant. In 1986, the time limit between removal and re-implantation of lungs was about four hours before the lungs would start to deteriorate badly; today that limit has been extended up to 12 hours with the help of a lung preservation solution developed at TGH.

For 2007, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, Director of the Lung Transplant Program, Toronto General Hospital and Head, Division of Thoracic Surgery; Director, Thoracic Surgery Research, University of Toronto and a former student of Dr. Cooper, estimates that the lung transplant program at TGH will perform about 100 lung transplants, making TGH one of the largest lung transplant centres in the world.

Currently, Dr. Keshavjee and his team are researching ways in which gene therapy can be used to fix injured organs, since the lung is a complex and fragile organ that is vulnerable to injury and rejection. His lab is also looking at how genes can be used to modify and repair lungs to improve transplant results. The team's ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for transplant by using regenerative medicine to grow healthy replacement lungs.

About Toronto General Hospital

Toronto General Hospital is a partner in the University Health Network, along with the Toronto Western Hospital and the Princess Margaret Hospital. These research hospitals are affiliated with the University of Toronto. Toronto General Hospital is a national and international source for research, education and patient care, and is recognized internationally for its innovations in transplantation, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, diabetes and genomic medicine. The lung transplant program is renowned worldwide for its innovation and comprehensiveness in treating patients with severe and complex lung diseases. A pioneer in research on how best to preserve fragile lungs, the program is currently developing new molecular diagnostic and treatment strategies to repair and improve the quality of donor lungs, which could increase the number of transplants performed and survival after transplant.

Media Contact

Phone: 416 340 4636
Email: UHN.News@uhn.ca

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