Immigrant of the Day: Dorry Segev – Physician, Renaissance Man

Posted on: March 10th, 2016
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Today’s New York Times has the story of a truly miraculous medical discovery. Scientists have found a way to allow people with kidney disease to receive a transplanted kidney from any donor even if it is not a compatible match. This year, a friend of mine was on the donor list and was growing increasingly ill waiting on a matching kidney. Thankfully, she found one and is doing well after her transplant. But thousands of people die every year because there are far too many people waiting for a compatible kidney than the supply can cover. So the news that a team at Johns Hopkins University has figured out a way to “desensitize” individuals in order to allow them to accept a kidney from an incompatible donor is truly welcome. That team is led by Israeli-born Dr. Dorry Segev.

From the Times:

Researchers estimate about half of the 100,000 people in the United States on waiting lists for a kidney transplant have antibodies that will attack a transplanted organ, and about 20 percent are so sensitive that finding a compatible organ is all but impossible. In addition, said Dr. Dorry Segev, the lead author of the new study and a transplant surgeon at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, an unknown number of people with kidney failure simply give up on the waiting lists after learning that their bodies would reject just about any organ. Instead, they resign themselves to dialysis, a difficult and draining procedure that can pretty much take over a person’s life.

Desensitization involves first filtering the antibodies out of a patient’s blood. The patient is then given an infusion of other antibodies to provide some protection while the immune system regenerates its own antibodies. For some reason — exactly why is not known — the person’s regenerated antibodies are less likely to attack the new organ, Dr. Segev said. But if the person’s regenerated natural antibodies are still a concern, the patient is treated with drugs that destroy any white blood cells that might make antibodies that would attack the new kidney.

When I started researching Dr. Segev, I was expecting to find that he is one who sits in the lab all day working on his cutting edge research. Not so.

He was recently profiled in a medical magazine and how he’s described will surprise you:

Which of these doesn’t apply to Johns Hopkins transplant surgeon Dorry Segev, MD, PhD, age 43?

  • Medical software developer
  • Piano prodigy
  • Techno band member
  • Championship swing dancer and dance teacher
  • Slalom water-skiing enthusiast
  • Writer of legislation

It’s no surprise if you didn’t get it, it was a trick question: Segev is all of those, and more. He is one of those people who needs only 3 to 5 hours of sleep each night. And he admits to being an adrenaline junky — one with an aggressive love of learning.

Congratulations Dr. Segev on your many accomplishments in and out of the hospital.