August 11, 2011

New transplant chief eager to make a difference

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Seth Karp, M.D., speaks with members of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center about his goals for the program. (Photo by Steve Green)

New transplant chief eager to make a difference

Seth Karp, M.D., the new director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, has a simple theory in life: make what you do matter.

“Since I was very young, I have always had the same thought process,” said Karp. “What has always been important to me is making a difference. I have always chosen positions where I thought I could make the most difference, have the greatest impact.

“This post, I think it qualifies more than any other position that I’ve ever taken.”

Karp comes to Vanderbilt from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where he served as director of both the Pancreas Transplantation Program and the Fellowship Training Program. He was also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

“Vanderbilt is a great opportunity for me,” said Karp. “It has a unique set of resources that the medical school has created and a mature transplant program. Putting those together, I think we can make a real difference in the care of transplant patients.”

Karp envisions bringing together clinical and research resources to learn more about the science of transplantation. The idea is to bring scientific discoveries into the clinic.

“Everything we do flows from good patient care,” said Karp. “The ultimate is to be able to recognize a clinical problem, solve the problem and bring that solution back to our patients. That’s always the goal.”

Although Vanderbilt’s transplantation programs have been lauded for outcomes, patient care and leadership, Karp hopes his plans for the center will improve patient satisfaction, further boost outcomes and grow the center into a world leader in patient care and translational research.

Karp’s goals for the VTC include the following initiatives:

• Consolidate and organize inpatient units. This calls for establishing a 35-bed unit in the Critical Care Tower dedicated to solid organ transplants. Occupancy is scheduled for the summer of 2012

• A redesign of the clinic and physician space

• Create a 24-hour transplant hotline to serve as a referral line for physicians

• Recruit experts in immunology and tissue typing for clinical/research purposes

• Purchase a transplant database

• Evaluate the merits of an outpatient dialysis center

• Initiate and maintain externally funded research programs

• Establish and support a training mission

At Vanderbilt, Karp will not only lead the transplant center, but he will also have an active liver/kidney/pancreas surgical practice, clinical responsibilities and will continue to pursue his own research interests.

His basic research concerns the biology of liver development and regeneration, while his clinical interests center around an innovative method for diagnosing gastrointestinal bleeding as well as expanded use of the liver and kidney in DCD cases (donation after cardiac death).

“The Vanderbilt Transplant Center is doing just about everything right,” said Karp. “We want to continue growing the program and progressing, ultimately becoming a world leader in patient care and translational research.”

Karp is only the third person appointed to lead VTC since it was established in 1989. William Frist, M.D., was the center’s founding director from 1989-1993, followed by C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System, who served in that role for 18 years.

“I have some very big shoes to fill,” admits Karp, “but the stage is set for an integration of programs and for us to build a unique center.”

Karp graduated from Harvard College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics and Astrophysics and a master’s degree in Astrophysics.

He went on to earn his medical degree from the Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

He underwent residency training in Surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where he served as a postdoctoral fellow and chief resident.

After completing his residency, Karp served a fellowship in Transplantation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he was also an attending surgeon.

“At the end of the day I really care about each patient individually and I want them to do well — that’s what really drives my day-to-day emotions,” said Karp. “In my role as director, I have to make sure that everyone (faculty and staff) has the resources that they need to work to their fullest potential.

“This is a visionary place,” he said. “The hospital’s leadership is invested in our program and the innovative discoveries and advances in transplantation. Our work is not just impacting patients at our center, but all over the country and the world.”