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Xiaoping Ren, MD, assistant professor in the department of pharmacology and cell biophysics, was not always a basic scientist. He received his medical degree from Harbin Medical University in China in 1984. Ren then practiced as a hand and microsurgeon at Harbin First Hospital, "because microsurgery and hand surgery were a new branch of the surgical field with more challenges and these procedures were attracting young surgeons to help develop novel surgical approaches and strategies,” Ren says. He then completed five years of both clinical and research fellowships in plastic surgery and hand microsurgery under the guidance of Dr. Harold Kleinert, a world-famous hand surgeon, at the University of Louisville. During this period, Ren created an animal model that was proved feasible for limb transplantation and allowed modulation of the immune reaction and tested immunosuppression. The nation’s first hand transplant was successfully conducted as a direct result of this model.
When did you come to UC?
"I joined the UC research community in 2001 after assisting with the first hand transplant in the U.S. I thought that UC had a better research facility and environment to help me improve my basic science knowledge and grow as a physician scientist.”
What is the focus of your research?
"Besides the transplant models, another focus of my research program is to understand the molecular and neuronal basis of non-ischemic nociceptor-induced cardioprotection. At UC, in collaboration with Dr. Keith Jones, I have developed a research project based on my original observation that surgical traumas such as carotid artery catheterization and abdominal incision have protective or injurious effects on the heart. I designed studies to investigate the effects of a surgical procedure upon myocardial infarction and ventricular function. I have discovered that two specific types of surgical trauma have opposite effects upon infarct size. One trauma involves surgical incision of the skin and elicts a cardioprotective effect. We call this remote preconditioning of trauma (RPCT). The other involves non-ischemic surgical manipulation of the carotid artery and the overlaying tissues and increases cardiac ischemic reperfusion injury. These studies were published in the Journal of Surgical Research and in Circulation. Particularly, the RPCT effect may have great clinical application since we established that non-injurious chemicals or electrical stimulation of skin nociceptors, or pain receptors, can protect the heart through the nervous system. In fact just this summer, our work was validated in a large animal model by Dr. Garrett Gross of the Medical College of Wisconsin.
"In order to translate this discovery to the clinic, my colleagues and I have made significant progress and have begun translational trials as well as two small clinical trials in the division of cardiovascular diseases. We hope that to see an application of this technology in the clinic in the next few years.”
What is the next frontier in transplantation, in your opinion?
"Well, there are other potential clinical uses to the allotransplantation models that others and I have developed over the last few decades. I believe one of the biggest challenges, and this will sound a little shocking, will be head transplantation. This has actually been tried with limited success over the years, but with recent advances in microsurgery, controlling rejection and in related areas, a feasible model may emerge. It certainly is an attractive challenge to the field. Currently, I am seeking funding to set up an international committee to explore the possibility of a collaborative project. I can tell you that at least one large international medical center has expressed great interest in the experimental side of this project.”
What do you like to do in your spare time?
"My favorite activities away from the lab include swimming, fishing and yard planning.”