Top surgeon joins UChicago Medicine to head new Transplant Institute

John Fung, MD, PhD

After a national search, transplant surgeon, researcher and educator John Fung, MD, PhD, FACS, has been selected as chief of the Section of Transplantation Surgery and director of the new University of Chicago Medicine Transplant Institute.

Fung, a highly respected surgeon with more than 30 years of experience in kidney, liver, pancreas, islet and intestinal transplantation, will assume the role in mid-September. He previously served as director of the Cleveland Clinic Health System Center for Transplantation, overseeing transplant services in Ohio, Florida, Indiana and West Virginia.

"The University of Chicago has a long history as a pioneer in organ transplantation, from some of the very first experiments in the 1900s to the first living donor liver transplant in the world in 1989," said Jeffrey Matthews, MD, the Dallas B. Phemister Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at UChicago Medicine. "Dr. Fung brings a wealth of experience that will carry on this tradition by adopting innovative approaches and technologies to care for patients in every stage of the transplant process."

Fung, 60, plans to revitalize the transplantation program in his new role at UChicago Medicine, building on its long history of research and advancements. Organ transplantation began at the University of Chicago in 1904 when Dr. Alexis Carrel performed the first heart transplant on a dog. Carrel received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1912, the first awarded in physiology or medicine for work done in America. In 1989, Dr. Christopher Broelsch performed the first living donor liver transplant in the world at the University of Chicago, and from 1999-2003, surgeons there performed three of the first four simultaneous heart, liver and kidney transplants in the United States.

Dr. Fung plans to revitalize the transplantation program in his new role, building on its long history of research and advancements.

As inaugural director of the Transplant Institute, Fung will work with faculty from multiple academic departments to grow UChicago Medicine's programs in solid organ transplantation. He plans to establish an intestinal transplant program at UChicago Medicine, working closely with specialists in the Digestive Diseases Center. He also wants to expand the use of new technology such as normothermic perfusion that can rejuvenate donor organs by circulating warm, oxygenated solution through them prior to transplantation, improving their viability and greatly increasing the number of available donor organs.

Fung has a longstanding research interest in transplantation immunology, immunosuppression therapy and liver related immunology. He was the medical director for Allogen Laboratory, the histocompatibility laboratory used by Cleveland Clinic and one of the largest such facilities in the United States. He has published more than 1,000 articles and book chapters, serves on the editorial board for several medical journals and was the former editor-in-chief for Liver Transplantation.

While at Cleveland Clinic, Fung worked to expand transplant services in Florida and Abu Dhabi, collaborating with each facility to advance quality initiatives, clinical trial programs and overall growth. He also instituted an intestinal transplant program at Cleveland Clinic, spearheaded the use of new minimally invasive surgical techniques and introduced procedures to improve preservation of donor organs. Prior to his role as director of transplantation, Fung was the chairman of the Digestive Disease Institute at Cleveland Clinic, which includes the disciplines of general surgery, gastroenterology, hepatology, human nutrition and colorectal surgery.

Fung is also a longtime teacher, most recently as professor of surgery at the Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. In 1989, he joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and held a tenured position as the inaugural Thomas E. Starzl Professor in Surgery. Fung completed his surgical fellowship under the guidance of Starzl, a pioneer in the field of islet and pancreas transplantation, and in 2015 received the Starzl Prize in Surgery and Immunology from UPMC, awarded annually to an international leader in organ transplantation.

"I'm really excited about coming back to Chicago to bring the things that I've learned since I left in 1982 back into practice here."

Fung studied as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University and earned a medical degree and PhD in immunology from the University of Chicago. He completed a surgical residency and was the director of histocompatibility testing at the University of Rochester before joining the faculty at UPMC. He is a member of several scientific and surgical societies, including the Advisory Committee on Organ Transplantation for the Department of Health and Human Services and has served as president of the International Liver Transplant Society. He also has been a member of the Board of Directors at the Americans for Medical Progress, the LifeBanc Organ Procurement Organization and the American Liver Foundation, and received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

"I'm really excited about coming back to Chicago to bring the things that I've learned since I left in 1982 back into practice here," Fung said. "The University of Chicago has always had a great tradition of innovation and understanding basic science and discovery. There are a lot of opportunities here that I haven't been able to utilize in the positions I've been in before."

He said the desire of hospital and academic leadership to continue as a leader in the field of transplantation drove his decision to return to where he received his first medical training. That, he said, "combined with experience that I can bring, as well as the energy of the surgeons and transplant medicine staff that are already here, can really launch this program as one of the leading transplant programs in the country."

John Fung, MD, PhD

John Fung, MD, PhD

With more than 30 years of experience, John Fung, MD, PhD, is a renowned leader in the field of organ transplantation, including liver, kidney, pancreas, islet and intestinal transplantation.

Learn more about Dr. Fung