Young transplant surgeon wins prestigious NIH award

Chairman Baliga with Satish Nadig, M.D.
Dr. Prabhakar Baliga, left, says Dr. Satish Nadig's award from the National Institutes of Health arrives at a time when such funding is hard to come by. Photo by Sarah Pack

Satish Nadig, M.D., Ph.D., a promising young researcher and entrepreneur at the Medical University of South Carolina, has received a prestigious award from the National Institutes of Health. It will give the transplant surgeon more time in the lab to pursue an innovative approach that could minimize the harmful effects of immunosuppressant therapy.

The Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award, also known as a K08, provides more than $580,000 in funding for Nadig’s work over a three-year period. The idea is to cover a lot of costs so young researchers have the freedom to study and work with the help of mentors to give them the experience to become independent investigators.

Prabhakar Baliga, M.D., chairman of the Department of Surgery, said Nadig’s award comes at a time when such funding is hard to come by. “The number of surgeons receiving NIH funding has decreased significantly over the past decade, and the number who perform and get rewarded for more challenging basic science work is a smaller number,” Baliga said. “Dr. Nadig’s innovative approach is transformative and a radical change in how we approach post-transplant immunosuppression.”

Nadig will focus on finding a way to help people who receive organs through transplant surgery avoid the possible side effects of the anti-rejection drug rapamycin. Because it’s an immunosuppressant, it can lead to infections and heart disease. Nadig hopes to change that. “The KO8 study will focus on a targeted delivery system using nanoparticle therapy for rapamycin - packaging, delivering and releasing the drug at the level of the transplanted graft as a means of local immunosuppression, thereby eliminating the systemic side effects,” Nadig said. He hopes to find a way to use the medication in a specific place instead of allowing it to circulate throughout the body.

“Historically, transplant surgeons have been the ones who have contributed many significant advances to the science of transplantation through basic science research,” Nadig said. “So to continue advancing the science, the junior faculty needs a way to learn how to do research at the NIH level. This program provides for that learning experience through conducting meaningful research under the supervision of a senior faculty mentor.”

The KO8 grant will allow Nadig to set aside 75 percent of his time for career development research. His study, called “Nanoparticle Therapy for Targeted Drug Delivery in Organ Transplantation,” includes the mentorship of Carl Atkinson, Ph.D., with whom he co-directs the Transplant Immunobiology Laboratory,  and Ann-Marie Broome, Ph.D.

Nadig said it’s critical that junior faculty members learn research methodology early in their careers. “How else are we going to be able to continue to advance the field, if not for the new faculty? Often, the clinical demands are imposing and the surgeon-scientist has difficulty finding time to not only conduct research but also learn from their mentors. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be supported by Dr. Baliga, a leader in the field of transplantation, and have the endorsement of the Department of Surgery at MUSC, where basic science and translational investigation are highly valued.”

Nadig said he’s honored to receive the award. “It’s the perfect example of the value the NIH puts on mentorship in research. Studies show that junior faculty members who are awarded a K08 early in their careers will advance in their research capabilities, often receiving an R01 award, the most prestigious research award the NIH offers, within a few years of the K08 award. “

Nadig has received other awards and recognition. Most recently, during the January 2016 annual American Society of Transplant Surgeons meeting, he was awarded the Vanguard Prize for his paper titled, "Immunosuppressive Nano-Therapeutic Micelles Downregulate Endothelial Cell Inflammation and Immunogenicity." In October of 2015, the Charleston Regional Business Journal named Nadig one of Charleston’s “40 under 40,” and in May of 2015, ToleRaM Nanotech, LLC, a company co- founded in 2013 by Nadig, Broome and Carl Atkinson, Ph.D., was selected to participate in the SCRA Technology Ventures' South Carolina Launch Program. ToleRaM also won an international Emerging Company award.Nadig graduated from the MUSC College of Medicine in 2003 and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy–Transplant Immunology degree by the University of Oxford in 2008. He did postdoctoral training in general surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard University Medical School and a fellowship in transplantation surgery at the University of Michigan Health Systems.