Marnell Endowed Chair for Research in Cardiothoracic Surgery Aims to Expand Options for Transplant Patients


Zain Khalpey, MD, PhD, MRCS (Eng), associate professor of surgery at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, has been named the Tony A. Marnell, Sr. Endowed Chair for Research in Cardiothoracic Surgery at the UA Sarver Heart Center. He also serves as surgical director of the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program at The University of Arizona Medical Center – University Campus.

“With surgical interests in adult and pediatric heart transplant; mechanical circulatory support, including ventricular- assist devices and total artificial heart; ex vivo lung perfusion; arrhythmia surgery and minimally invasive mitral valve surgery, Dr. Khalpey embodies the spirit of the Marnell chair,” said Carol C. Gregorio, PhD, interim director of the UA Sarver Heart Center.

The Marnell Endowed Chair was established by an estate gift from Mr. Marnell, who understood the importance of medical research and the resources required to advance medical science. The endowment was established at the UA Sarver Heart Center in gratitude to Jack G. Copeland, MD, who performed Mr. Marnell’s heart transplant procedure in 1989, giving him 12 more years of an active, happy life.

“I am humbled by the honor of this appointment and hope to memorialize the Marnell family’s wishes through my work,” said Dr. Khalpey.

“The novel thinking of Dr. Khalpey will help direct the future of cardiac surgery,” said Michael Teodori, MD, interim chief, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery. “He has tremendous promise as a surgeon who successfully will bridge the gap between the theories of basic science research and practical innovation in clinical medicine and surgery.”

About Dr. Khalpey’s research

Dr. Khalpey directs the Ex Vivo Lung Program, Clinical and Translational Cardiothoracic Research and the Cardiopulmonary Stem Cell Bank. The Ex Vivo Lung Program offers a method to improve the quality of lungs removed from donor cadavers, making more lungs suitable for transplantation. His laboratory focuses on basic and translational research involving organogenesis (the formation and development of organs), organ preservation and tissue regeneration.

One goal is to recondition human hearts and lungs unsuitable for transplantation by chemically stripping unusable cadaveric lungs of their cells, leaving a functional lung “bioscaffold.” This structure then can be “re-seeded” with autologous (a patient’s own) stem cells to rebuild the organ. Using a patient’s own stem cells may eliminate the need for expensive immunosuppressant medication that must be taken post transplant for life and subjects patients to various health risks.

One tool may be the use of a 3D bioprinter to aid in his organogenesis and tissue regeneration goals. His team currently is working on a 3D bioprinter that can print using “bioink” containing a patient’s own stem cells.

With limited hearts available for transplantation, Dr. Khalpey is initiating “bridge-to-regeneration” trials in which autologous stem cells are injected into  a patient’s failing heart to offer hope for increased regeneration and recovery. Dr. Khalpey, who came to the UA from Harvard Medical School (Brigham and Women’s Hospital) and Columbia University in New York City, has published more than 100 manuscripts, abstracts and book chapters on heart and lung transplantation involving basic science and clinical outcome studies. He is an American Heart Association reviewer, Early Career Reviewer for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a member of the UA Institutional Review Board (IRB).

More information on Dr. Khalpey’s research is available on UA Sarver Heart Center’s website: heart. Click on “Latest News” and “In the News.”