NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center Celebrates Transplant Program's 50 Years of Lifesaving Success

Oct 2, 2013


There have been a multitude of firsts, celebrated successes, groundbreaking research findings, and more than 4,000 lives saved — and that was just in the first 50 years. This week NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and The Rogosin Institute celebrate the 50th anniversary of their world-renowned transplant program.

To commemorate this important milestone, an anniversary celebration, "50 Years of Transplant Excellence," was held today, attended by some 300 members of the leadership and staff of NewYork-Presbyterian, Weill Cornell Medical College, and The Rogosin Institute; transplant recipients, donors, and family members; and partners from the community.

"We have a very simple strategy when it comes to transplantation here at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell — we consistently strive to offer the maximum number of opportunities for patients," says Dr. Sandip Kapur, surgical director of the transplant program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and associate professor of surgery and the G. Tom Shires, M.D. Faculty Scholar in Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College. "We've treated patients of all ages — we have an excellent pediatric program and have transplanted people in their late 80s. Every available tool that exists, exists in this program. It's a detail that distinguishes us from 90 percent of the programs in the country and helps position us as a national leader in what we do."

"This is a special occasion to acknowledge the remarkable accomplishments of the transplant program over the last five decades and honor the doctors, scientists, nurses, staff, and all members of the transplant team who have made them possible," says Dr. Steven J. Corwin, CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. "We congratulate and thank all those, past and present, who have made the program what it is today. At the same time, we celebrate the thousands of adults and children whose lives have been saved through transplantation and look forward to the next 50 years of advances so that we can continue to offer patients and families the most outstanding and compassionate transplant care, and a renewed gift of life."

"The transplant program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center exemplifies translational medicine at its best," says Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. "Over five decades of transplantation, our physician-scientists have made research breakthroughs that have enabled patients to receive superior care before, during, and after their transplants. These advances have made their lives healthier and easier."

The Transplant Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell is a leader in kidney and pancreas transplantation. Set within an academic medical center environment, the program is renowned for maximizing transplant opportunities and delivering exceptional outcomes for patients through cutting-edge laboratory research, advanced surgical techniques, personalized medical management, national kidney exchanges, and a unique multidisciplinary treatment approach. The program works in close cooperation with The Rogosin Institute, a leading research and treatment center for kidney disease and a member of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System.

The first transplant program in the New York metropolitan area, and one of the largest such programs in the country, the kidney transplant program has performed more than 4,200 transplants since its inception in 1963, making it one of the highest-volume kidney transplant centers in the nation.

Among its many clinical accomplishments, the program and its faculty performed the first living-donor kidney transplant in the New York metropolitan area in 1963, followed by its first pediatric transplant the next year. Just four years later, in 1968, the program became one of the first in the country to use a new tool, the Belzer kidney perfusion machine, to improve the viability of donated kidneys.

In 1970, one of the program's kidney recipients became the first woman in the New York metropolitan area and fourth woman in the world to give birth to a child after a transplant. She would go on to become only the second transplant recipient on record to have three children.

A major milestone was reached in 1984 — just two years before Dr. Kapur entered Weill Cornell Medical College as a student — as the transplant program performed its 1,000th kidney transplant. Over the next 15 years, the team would expand its capabilities, performing its first pancreas transplants while also doubling the number of kidney transplants performed. By 2007, 3,000 kidney transplants had been performed and, five years later, in 2012, the team performed the 4,000th, establishing NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital as having one of the highest kidney transplant volumes in the country.

Since 2000, the program has evolved to use laparoscopic techniques for living kidney donor surgery, minimizing scarring; established a steroid-avoidance program, enabling select kidney transplant patients to live steroid-free; and began successfully utilizing donors with different blood types from the recipient for transplant, among other advances.

"One of the reasons this program is so successful is that there's always been very strong institutional support for it," says Dr. Kapur. "From our leaders in administration to the people who work on the transplant unit, the hospital, the medical school, and Rogosin have always genuinely valued transplantation. There's always been this ‘We can get it done. We can help' attitude. They've given us the tools to go well beyond where we started and, as a result, we have a wonderful, very experienced, dedicated and passionate group of people that are proud to be a part of this program."

Dr. Kapur says one of the moments in the program's history he is most proud of are the transplants that occurred on Valentine's Day 2008, when the transplant team performed the National Kidney Registry's first paired kidney donor chain, resulting in five transplants. This innovative approach vastly maximizes the potential for transplants by enlisting an altruistic donor to facilitate a domino kidney chain. Later that same year, the program initiated the first cross-country living donor chain in the United States and, in 2011 the team transplanted two donor-recipient pairs in a 60-person donor chain profiled in The New York Times.

"We were a founding member of a transplant exchange system that now has 65 centers nationally and we have performed the largest number of exchange transplants using that venue of all the participating centers," Dr. Kapur says. "We've been a major contributor to developing the processes that many other centers are now using. It's highly rewarding. When you talk to people involved in the exchanges and they reflect back on what they've accomplished — they're now part of a process that helped five, 10, 30 people. It's quite gratifying and also unifying. This is a rare example of people simply helping people. It's a process that's totally devoid of choosing. Donors enter into this without any expectation or knowledge of where their kidney will go. It requires this huge leap of faith that everyone involved is going to follow through with their promise. And we helped build it."

The transplant program's achievements are numerous and there have been a variety of firsts along the way. Among them, the program was first to perform a successful pancreas islet transplant in the New York tri-state area on patients with Type 1 diabetes, freeing them from insulin dependence. In 1985, The Rogosin Institute Immunogenetics and Transplantation Laboratory (IGT), established under the directorship of Dr. Manikkam Suthanthiran and Dr. Marilena Fotino, became one of the first laboratories to provide testing for transplant patients, helping to match near-perfect donors with patients in need of a transplant. Today, the lab is one of the largest of its kind in the nation.

"Transplantation is a medical miracle, accomplished by a dedicated team, and the patients and organ donors are the true heroes," says Dr. Manikkam Suthanthiran, Chief of Nephrology & Hypertension and Chief of Transplantation Medicine at NYP/Weill Cornell. "We are all blessed to be an integral part of this life-restoring therapy where personal excellence and public good are inextricably linked and research and clinical care are interdependent." In 2013, Dr. Suthanthiran's laboratory published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that a noninvasive test can detect whether transplanted kidneys are in the process of being rejected, as well as identify patients at risk for rejection weeks to months before the onset of symptoms. By measuring just three genetic molecules in a urine sample, the test diagnoses acute rejection of kidney transplants.

But perhaps the best of transplant science is yet to be uncovered. "With all of our history and achievements, one of the reasons I really love transplantation so much is because in reality, transplantation is still in its infancy compared to the broad scope of medicine," says Dr. Kapur. "There is still so much more to discover and so much we can work to improve. There's a wealth of knowledge yet to be revealed to help us better personalize care."

For more information on the NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Transplant Program, visit For more information about the 50th anniversary, visit

In addition to the Transplant Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, the kidney transplant program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is also among the oldest and largest such programs in the nation. Together, the programs perform more than 450 kidney transplants a year.

NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center

NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, located in New York City, is one of the leading academic medical centers in the world, comprising the teaching hospital NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical College, the medical school of Cornell University. NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine, and is committed to excellence in patient care, education, research and community service. Weill Cornell physician-scientists have been responsible for many medical advances — including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer; the synthesis of penicillin; the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S.; the first clinical trial for gene therapy for Parkinson's disease; the first indication of bone marrow's critical role in tumor growth; and, most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital also comprises NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/Westchester Division, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital, and NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area and is consistently ranked among the best academic medical institutions in the nation, according to U.S.News & World Report. Weill Cornell Medical College is the first U.S. medical college to offer a medical degree overseas and maintains a strong global presence in Austria, Brazil, Haiti, Tanzania, Turkey and Qatar. For more information, visit Weill Cornell Medical College.

The Rogosin Institute

The Rogosin Institute is an independent not-for-profit treatment and research center associated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College. It is one of the nation's leading research and treatment centers for kidney disease, providing services from early stage disease to those requiring dialysis and transplantation. It also has programs in diabetes, hypertension and lipid disorders. The Institute's cancer research program began in 1995. The Rogosin Institute is unique in its combination of the best in clinical care with research into new and better ways to prevent and treat disease. For more information, visit

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