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Wei Kelly Wu

Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Kelly Wu, a general surgery resident at Vanderbilt, is trying to solve the vexing problem of how to put a stop to organ transplant shortages.

Donated organs are often declined for transplant if the donor was older or had diseases, or if the organ was out of the donor’s body for too long. Doctors have been trying to address this through machine perfusion — housing the organ in a machine that can pump blood and nutrients. But Wu thinks there’s potential for even better outcomes with a method called xenogenic cross-circulation: linking the organ to the blood circulation of an anesthetized animal.

The thought is that other organs in the animal can communicate with, and help rehabilitate, the donated organ. “Our whole premise is that you need every system running to have an environment that is conducive to the most recovery,” she said.

Wu’s recent work connecting donated livers to pigs was featured on the cover of the journal Hepatology in September. When she starts as a transplant surgery fellow at the Cleveland Clinic next year, she hopes to continue this line of research.

Outside of medicine, Wu looks for other problems to solve. She plays word games like Wordle (as well as themed variations like Tradle and Worldle), and enjoys climbing in her free time, a hobby she sees as involving both physical and mental strategy: “It lets you measure your own progress in a way that gives you something to achieve and get better at outside of your academic progress.”

— Elaine Chen