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Harnessing the Power Within: Immune Transplant and Therapy

UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh are collaborating on an innovative effort that will transform the way the world thinks about immunotherapy.

At the center of this partnership is the newly established UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center, a bold new vision that leverages the distinct capabilities of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh. It combines unwavering support for world-class patient care with collaboration and innovation to drive discovery in the field of immune transplant and therapy.

According to Robert Ferris, MD, PhD, director,  UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, this shared effort  between UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh is a unique move that puts the two at the forefront of translational immune therapies. “The partnership has enabled us to put together a team with deep knowledge of immunology and provide that team with a robust research infrastructure and clinical opportunities that other centers are less poised to offer,” Dr. Ferris said. “UPMC is putting significant funding from its commercial enterprises into this facility because of this strong relationship that doesn’t really exist anywhere else.”

The purpose of the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center is to allow leaders in immunotherapy research to work alongside other medical minds that specialize in organ transplantation, cancer, the biology of aging, and chronic diseases. Together, these medical innovators are brainstorming approaches that will potentially change the lives of patients around the world.

From bench to bedside, researchers and clinicians are focusing on the patient and asking how the discoveries that are being made in the lab every day can contribute to patients’ longevity and quality of life.

  • Organ transplantation: Driven by its pioneering efforts and expertise in transplant medicine, UPMC is setting its sights on a new frontier: immune transplantation in conjunction with organ transplantation. This approach aims to induce immune tolerance after organ transplantation to reduce the need for immunosuppression, paving the way for an elevated standard of patient care.
  • Cancer: Experts at UPMC have long employed immunotherapeutic approaches to develop protocols that can extend the patient’s life while also improving quality of life — an important consideration. By fine-tuning the immune system, clinicians can leverage the body’s own defenses to fight cancer cells and relieve some of the burden of disease.
  • Aging: As researchers explore the basic biology of aging, they are beginning to unlock the mysteries of how the aging process itself leads to disease and disability, and thus are able to develop better treatment and prevention strategies for age-related conditions like frailty, Alzheimer’s disease, and atherosclerosis.
  • Chronic disease: Researchers at the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center are dedicated to understanding chronic diseases and the role that immunotherapy and immune transplant will play in treating these conditions.

UPMC and the University have  a recognized foundation of success in immunotherapies, patient care, and research. With the establishment of the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center, now is the ideal time to propel those successes forward and increase the speed of discovery to transform this work into practical applications that can lead to improved health for a great many people.

“We’ve used the structure of the Immune Transplant and Therapy Center to become one of the first centers to develop and implement novel treatments that blend transplant with traditional immunotherapies,” Dr. Ferris said. “We’re expanding on what we know to create something better.”

Experts at the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center believe that immunotherapy – for transplant patients, for those with cancer, and for people who are living with chronic diseases holds great promise in the achievement of this goal. By focusing on the development of approaches that boost the body’s natural defenses, researchers and clinicians can build models of care that fight disease at the most elemental levels while reducing many of the burdens associated with traditional health care.

“The UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center represents an endeavor that is at the heart of UPMC’s mission — to develop and deliver life-changing medicine. By investing in extraordinary people and groundbreaking research today, we will define tomorrow’s health care, right here in Pittsburgh,” said UPMC president and chief executive officer Jeffrey Romoff.

The UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center is slated to occupy a building at 5000 Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh. The century-old structure, formerly a factory for the Ford Motor Company, is undergoing a $200 million renovation. When completed, the facility will house labs, offices, startup companies, and industry partners.

“The relationship between the University and UPMC is one of the most optimal, most symbiotic that I’ve ever seen,” Dr. Ferris said. “UPMC is supporting this brick and mortar building, taking experts out of their day jobs, and giving them ownership in this research.”