July 1, 2019
5 min read

STS News, Summer 2019 — For cardiothoracic surgeons establishing their research programs or pursuing advanced surgical training, grants from The Thoracic Surgery Foundation (TSF) can serve as stepping stones to bigger endeavors.

As the Society’s charitable arm, TSF provides funding for research, education, leadership courses, and surgical outreach missions and awarded $951,500 in grants for 2019. Applications for 2020 grants open soon (see sidebar for more details). 

Two previous grant recipients have found that the support provided by TSF has had a significant impact on their careers.

Bryan Whitson, MD, PHD, performing ex-vivo lung perfusion

TSF Research Grant awardee Bryan A. Whitson, MD, PhD, received an R01 grant for his work with ex-vivo lung perfusion.

Lung Transplant Research Grant Paves Way for R01 Study

Bryan A. Whitson, MD, PhD, was awarded a $3.4 million, 5-year R01 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute last year—thanks in part to data generated from the TSF Research Grant he received in 2015. Dr. Whitson is the director of the Section of Thoracic Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

His research focuses on utilizing ex-vivo lung perfusion (EVLP) to improve the quality of donor lungs and lower the risk of primary graft dysfunction (PGD) after transplant surgery.

While patients are continually added to the lung transplant waiting list, the number of available donor organs can’t keep up with demand. And once patients receive new lungs, severe PGD can occur in up to a third.

PGD is thought to be caused by ischemia/reperfusion injury; Dr. Whitson and his colleagues theorized that using the protein MG53 during EVLP could help mitigate this injury by reversing damage to cell membranes.

With the funding from the TSF grant, the researchers identified the ideal dose of MG53 to be used during EVLP and tested its regenerative and protective functions in rat models.

"Not only did the TSF grant provide the financial resources to develop the preliminary data needed for my R01 application, but it also provided external validation to the National Institutes of Health that the research question and methods had merit," he said.

"This financial support [from TSF] set the stage for my future research endeavors, allowed me to be promoted, and was absolutely critical to getting the R01 funding."

Bryan A. Whitson, MD, PhD

Over the course of the R01 grant, the researchers will use EVLP with MG53 to conduct lung transplants in porcine models, setting the stage for future clinical trials. They also will work to solidify an assessment signature that would identify lung injury more precisely than arterial blood gases. Dr. Whitson said his ultimate goal is for more patients to receive lung transplants and have better outcomes.

As TSF prepares to open submissions for its 2020 award cycle, Dr. Whitson advised applicants to be persistent and seek strong collaborations.

"TSF grants provide resources to advance the research and also bring recognition to the institution," he explained. "This financial support set the stage for my future research endeavors, allowed me to be promoted, and was absolutely critical to getting the R01 funding."

Moritz C. Wyler von Ballmoos, MD, PhD, MPH, performing mitral valve surgery

Moritz C. Wyler von Ballmoos, MD, PhD, MPH, received the TSF Michael J. Davidson Fellowship to improve his skills in transcatheter therapies.

Davidson Fellowship Expands Skills in Minimally Invasive Cardiac Procedures

In addition to research awards, TSF currently offers five educational fellowships, including the Michael J. Davidson Fellowship, created in honor of the cardiothoracic surgeon who was killed in January 2015 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Dr. Davidson was a strong advocate for a future that would meld the cardiac catheterization lab with the operating theater, and the fellowship is awarded to early career cardiothoracic surgeons who share his passion for less invasive heart surgeries.

2018 Davidson Fellowship awardee Moritz C. Wyler von Ballmoos, MD, PhD, MPH, has a deep interest in this area, having previously completed fellowships in robotics and minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgery.

"This is currently the most exciting and innovative domain of cardiac surgery in which to work," he said. "I have a passion for treating valvular heart disease, and I find the science and technology that we can leverage to improve patient outcomes in this field stimulating."

During his yearlong Davidson Fellowship at Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center in Texas, Dr. Wyler von Ballmoos implanted more than 350 transcatheter heart valves and performed more than 100 minimally invasive surgeries.

He spent substantial time in the cath lab and hybrid OR, improving his skills in utilizing transcatheter technology to treat various conditions, including valve disease, paravalvular leak closure, and aortic pathologies.

Dr. Wyler von Ballmoos also focused on minimally invasive cardiac surgery cases consisting mostly of mitral valve repair surgery, aortic valve replacement, and coronary artery bypass grafting surgery. He developed expertise in imaging for structural heart interventions, including advanced imaging technology (such as 3D image fusion) that also is useful for minimally invasive cardiac surgery.

"Surgeons who are not experts in transcatheter treatments of these disease processes miss out on the opportunity to be the one unbiased advocate offering the full therapeutic spectrum to patients."

Moritz C. Wyler von Ballmoos, MD, PhD, MPH

"The time spent with thought leaders in the field has given me more breadth and depth in terms of my skillset and knowledge, allowing me to take better care of simple and complex cases alike," Dr. Wyler von Ballmoos said.

He encouraged other cardiothoracic surgeons to apply for the Davidson Fellowship and advance their knowledge in transcatheter techniques.

"As the Roman philosopher Seneca once said, 'Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant.' That is no different for the treatment of structural heart and aortic disease in the 21st century," Dr. Wyler von Ballmoos said. "Surgeons who are not experts in transcatheter treatments of these disease processes miss out on the opportunity to be the one unbiased advocate offering the full therapeutic spectrum to patients."

Apply Today for TSF Grants
Applications will open on July 15 for a number of awards, fellowships, and scholarships from TSF. Learn more at thoracicsurgeryfoundation.org/awards and submit your application by September 15, 2019. Contact TSF Executive Director Priscilla Kennedy via email or 312-202-5868 with any questions.