IU School of Medicine student Arthur Cross-Najafi has been selected for an Excellence in Research Award from the American College of Surgeons (ACS). He will be recognized for this honor during ACS Clinical Congress 2022 in San Diego in October. In addition to that, Cross-Najafi and his mentor, Burcin Ekser, MD, PhD, were selected to receive the International Transplantation Science Mentee-Mentor Award 2022 from The Transplantation Society (TTS). Their research will be featured at the 29th International Congress of The Transplantation Society Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September.
Cross-Najafi’s research focuses on xenotransplantation, the process of genetically modifying pigs so their organs can be safely transplanted into humans. One of the challenges of this effort is the human body’s immune system may reject the organs.
“My research focuses on determining genetic modifications that would allow pig cells to be more protected from the destructive activity of human natural killer cells with the overall goal of improving pig-to-human compatibility,” said Cross-Najafi. “As an aspiring surgeon, the idea that we can use modern scientific advances to genetically engineer pigs and transplant their organs into humans is nothing short of a science fiction that, if successful, could save the lives of thousands of patients on the transplant waiting list every year. To be recognized for my contribution to the field is truly an honor.”
Cross-Najafi has participated in both the Indiana Medical Student Program for Research and Scholarship (IMPRS) and Medical Student Training Applied to Research (MedSTAR) medical student research education programs through the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) and IU School of Medicine. IMPRS is a summer program which offers opportunities for medical students to participate in research. MedSTAR is a year-long fellowship program which provides clinical and translational research opportunities for medical students with full-time mentored training.
Cross-Najafi gave credit to his mentors, including Ekser, Ping Li, PhD, and the other members of their lab for providing him with rich learning experiences. He said both IMPRS and MedSTAR have been fundamental in giving him a solid foundation for career success.
“My IMPRS summer research experience gave me a first glimpse at the scientific process and the importance of research in advancing modern medicine,” said Cross-Najafi. “My MedSTAR experience allowed me to dive deeper into the scientific process and I learned how to formulate hypotheses, design experiments to test my hypotheses, effectively troubleshoot protocols, solve complex problems, and write scientific manuscripts. I am humbled to have had these opportunities and deeply grateful to the IU School of Medicine and the Indiana CTSI for making these programs possible.”
“Dr. Li and I are very proud of Arthur,” said Ekser, associate professor of surgery at IU School of Medicine. “These awards show the excellence of the IMPRS and MedSTAR programs to support future physician-scientists.”