Bringing new life into transplant research

Dr. Terry Zwiep

When Dr. Terry Zwiep isn’t covering night and weekend shifts at the hospital, or making plans for the baby he and his wife are expecting in a few months, you can find him in the lab working toward his Master of Science (MSc) in Surgery.

Currently in the third year of his General Surgery residency at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Dr. Zwiep decided to take this elective year to focus on completing an MSc in Surgery instead of doing more clinical rotations.

“There’s not really another General Surgery program in Canada or even the United States that has this free elective year,” Dr. Zwiep explained. “We get trained in four years, so this third year is just an extra year for us to either get more academic or clinical training.”

Prior to starting his MSc in Surgery, Dr. Zwiep received an Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) award. OGS awards are merit-based and recipients receive $15,000 toward their graduate studies.

Under the supervision of Dr. Doug Quan and Dr. Wei-Ping Min, Dr. Zwiep’s research involves using RNA interference to reduce ischemia reperfusion injury in transplants.

When an organ is taken out of a donor it is ischemic for a certain amount of time, which means it doesn’t have any blood flow and injury can take place. However, when the organ is put into the recipient and blood begins to flow through it again, there is an entire other round of injury that can happen.

Dr. Zwiep is trying to target pathways that lead to cell injury, specifically looking at apoptosis, or programmed cell death. He is trying to silence certain genes in these pathways to reduce the amount of injury that happens.

The idea behind the research is to help prevent this injury, especially in DCD (Donation After Cardiac Death) donors, where the ischemic phase is much longer and there is a greater chance the organs will not be of high enough quality.

“There’s a huge waiting list of people who need organs,” he said. “If what we are doing works, it would definitely help that waiting period by making more organs usable.”

Dr. Zwiep explained the thing that motivates him most is thinking about how this research could impact patients in the future.

“I think that in research you can get very caught up in the day to day, and you don’t see the final goal,” he explained. "Looking at how this could impact patients and translate into the clinical setting is very important."

“Moving closer and closer to working with humans makes it interesting as well,” he added.

Dr. Zwiep explained that it would be nice if he could continue working on research similar to this in the future throughout his career in General Surgery. But for now, Dr. Zwiep plans to just focus on finishing his MSc in Surgery, completing his residency, and welcoming a new member to his family.