UPMC picks transplant director

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UPMC has chosen an expert in living-donor liver transplants from the University of Minnesota as the new clinical director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute.

Dr. Abhinav Humar, 43, director of the liver and living-donor transplant program at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, is scheduled to assume his new duties by March.

He succeeds Dr. Amadeo Marcos, who was forced to resign last March for violating the medical system's code-of-conduct policy. Dr. Marcos was accused of sexual misbehavior, and has also been criticized by some former UPMC doctors for unnecessary deaths and complications due to his aggressive liver transplant policies.

While declining to get into details, Dr. Humar said yesterday in a telephone interview that the UPMC search committee members he met with "see the problems that are there in the program and have a willingness to correct those problems and commit resources to correcting them."

Since Dr. Marcos left, Dr. J. Wallis Marsh Jr. has served as interim chief of the transplant division.

Dr. Humar said his philosophy is to emphasize quality of organ transplants over quantity, although he noted that a major medical center has to achieve a fairly high number of transplants to maintain surgical quality and do meaningful research.

"Still," he said, "I was reassured to see that quantity was not where the emphasis is at UPMC but that the emphasis was on good quality."

Some critics of the UPMC transplant program under Dr. Marcos' tenure said that he sacrificed quality in an aggressive push to raise the liver transplant numbers at the center.

UPMC officials have steadfastly defended Dr. Marcos' clinical standards in public and have argued that quality did not suffer during his tenure.

One of his goals, Dr. Humar said, will be to make sure that all parts of the UPMC transplant program get strong emphasis, and to remind people, for instance, that its intestinal transplant work is world-renowned.

He also would like to continue a team approach to evaluating living-donor liver candidates used at the University of Minnesota. When someone has offered to donate part of his liver, the Minnesota team evaluates him from a surgical, medical and psycho-social standpoint, and unless all team members agree, the surgery doesn't go forward, he said.

A person might have a healthy liver, he said, but have heart or lung problems that would put him at risk during surgery. Or someone might be medically sound, but not have strong enough family support to be able to recuperate and recover successfully.

Dr. Humar is married and has two children, a 14-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl. His family will join him after the school year ends, he said.

Besides serving as the clinical chief for liver transplants at the University of Minnesota, Dr, Humar is known for research into liver regeneration -- partial livers grow back again after transplant -- and his work on cytomegalovirus, an infection that often afflicts transplant patients.

He earned his medical degree at the University of Ottawa in 1988 and did his surgical residency there before moving to Minnesota in 1996.

"I'm excited to go to Pittsburgh," he said. "It was a difficult decision for me because I've been here at Minnesota for 12 years now and it's a very high-class program and the decision to leave friends and mentors who have become my family is obviously very difficult."

He considers the appointment "a unique opportunity to learn from a center that has a lot of experience and to bring some of the things I've learned to that center."

Mark Roth can be reached at mroth@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1130.


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