As both a thoracic surgeon and an active investigator, Ankit Bharat, MD, sees the importance of bench-to-bedside research first hand. Bharat, associate professor of Surgery in the Division of Thoracic Surgery and of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, leads a research laboratory focused on lung preservation, transplant immunology and airway biology — and translating discoveries in those areas into clinical impact.
Bharat is also a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
What are your research interests?
Our research focuses on understanding the pathogenesis of lung injury, as well as the mechanisms of injury resolution, using models of lung transplantation and fibrosis, mimicking human disease. We use high-throughput genomic and transcriptomic techniques, as well as intravital imaging to determine the host immune response to injury mechanisms, such as ischemia-reperfusion and infections. We hope that by finding solutions to commonly encountered clinical problems in the context of lung biology, we can make a broad impact in patients with advanced lung disease and patients undergoing lung transplantation.
What is the ultimate goal of your research?
Our overarching goal is to develop novel areas of therapeutics in patients with advanced lung disease and for those undergoing lung transplantations. By modulating the host immune response, we can alter the lung disease biology and favorably impact patient outcomes.
What types of collaborations are you engaged in across campus and beyond?
We are fortunate to have a multidisciplinary research team with experienced collaborators from different divisions at Feinberg (including Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology, and Organ Transplantation) as well as at the McCormick School of Engineering. We also work closely with investigators at Washington University School of Medicine and the Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix.
Where have you recently published papers?
Our research has been recently published in Science Translational Medicine, the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Journal of Immunology and American Journal of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine. Our discovery that Mollicutes cause fatal hyperammonemia in humans was featured as one of the cover stories on sciencemag.org. Our discovery of resident pulmonary non-classical monocytes and their sentinel role in initiating lung ischemia-reperfusion injury leading to the lethal syndrome of primary graft dysfunction, the predominant cause of mortality following lung transplantation, was selected as the cover of Science Translational Medicine. Recently, we discovered a new role for the spleen in the education of monocytes, enabling them to permeabilize host endothelium, thereby allowing neutrophils to extravasate into the interstitial space and initiate inflammation. This work for published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
What do you enjoy about teaching and mentoring young scientists in the lab?
I particularly enjoy getting the trainees excited about the research they are involved with. We try to ask research questions in our lab that have high clinical relevance. Being active in the surgical field and having translated some of our findings to patient care, I feel fortunate to be able to explain the clinical impact of the work to our trainees. The motivation they derive from this is immensely gratifying. I hope that the trainees maintain that drive and a keen passion towards transforming the lives of our patients, even after finishing their training in the lab.
How is your research funded?
Our research is predominantly funded through the NIH (K08 and R01 award). Additionally, our research has been funded by the American Association of Thoracic Surgeons, American Lung Association, LUNGevity Foundation, Thoracic Surgery Foundation, International Heart and Lung Transplant Society and the Society of University Surgeons.