Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University Of Sydney (2009)
  • B.Sc (Hons), University of Western Sydney, Biological Sciences (2003)

Stanford Advisors

Research & Scholarship

Lab Affiliations


Journal Articles

  • A rapid noninvasive assay for the detection of renal transplant injury. Transplantation Sigdel, T. K., Vitalone, M. J., Tran, T. Q., Dai, H., Hsieh, S., Salvatierra, O., Sarwal, M. M. 2013; 96 (1): 97-101


    BACKGROUND: The copy number of donor-derived cell-free DNA (dd-cfDNA) in blood correlates with acute rejection (AR) in heart transplantation. We analyzed urinary dd-cfDNA as a surrogate marker of kidney transplant injury. METHODS: Sixty-three biopsy-matched urine samples (41 stable and 22 allograft injury) were analyzed from female recipients of male donors for chromosome Y (donor)-specific dd-cfDNA. All biopsies were semiquantitatively scored by a single pathologist. Standard statistical measures of correlation and significance were used. RESULTS: There was baseline scatter for urinary dd-cfDNA/?g urine creatinine across different patients, even at the time of stable graft (STA) function (undetected to 12.26 copies). The mean urinary dd-cfDNA in AR (20.5±13.9) was significantly greater compared with STA (2.4±3.3; P<0.0001) or those with chronic allograft injury (CAI; 2.4±2.4; P=0.001) but no different from BK virus nephropathy (BKVN; 20.3±15.7; P=0.98). In AR and BKVN, the intrapatient drift was highly significant versus STA or CAI patients (10.3±7.4 in AR; 12.3±8.4 in BKVN vs. -0.5±3.5 in STA and 2.3±2.6 in CAI; P<0.05). Urinary dd-cfDNA correlated with protein/creatinine ratio (r=0.48; P<0.014) and calculated glomerular filtration rate (r=-0.52; P<0.007) but was most sensitive for acute allograft injury (area under the curve=0.80; P<0.0006; 95% confidence interval, 0.67-0.93). CONCLUSION: Urinary dd-cfDNA after renal transplantation has patient specific thresholds, reflecting the apoptotic injury load of the donor organ. Serial monitoring of urinary dd-cfDNA can be a surrogate sensitive biomarker of acute injury in the donor organ but lacks the specificity to distinguish between AR and BKVN injury.

    View details for DOI 10.1097/TP.0b013e318295ee5a

    View details for PubMedID 23756769

  • A Peripheral Blood Diagnostic Test for Acute Rejection in Renal Transplantation AMERICAN JOURNAL OF TRANSPLANTATION Li, L., Khatri, P., Sigdel, T. K., Tran, T., Ying, L., Vitalone, M. J., Chen, A., Hsieh, S., Dai, H., Zhang, M., Naesens, M., Zarkhin, V., Sansanwal, P., Chen, R., Mindrinos, M., Xiao, W., Benfield, M., Ettenger, R. B., Dharnidharka, V., Mathias, R., Portale, A., McDonald, R., Harmon, W., Kershaw, D., Vehaskari, V. M., Kamil, E., Baluarte, H. J., Warady, B., Davis, R., Butte, A. J., Salvatierra, O., Sarwal, M. M. 2012; 12 (10): 2710-2718


    Monitoring of renal graft status through peripheral blood (PB) rather than invasive biopsy is important as it will lessen the risk of infection and other stresses, while reducing the costs of rejection diagnosis. Blood gene biomarker panels were discovered by microarrays at a single center and subsequently validated and cross-validated by QPCR in the NIH SNSO1 randomized study from 12 US pediatric transplant programs. A total of 367 unique human PB samples, each paired with a graft biopsy for centralized, blinded phenotype classification, were analyzed (115 acute rejection (AR), 180 stable and 72 other causes of graft injury). Of the differentially expressed genes by microarray, Q-PCR analysis of a five gene-set (DUSP1, PBEF1, PSEN1, MAPK9 and NKTR) classified AR with high accuracy. A logistic regression model was built on independent training-set (n = 47) and validated on independent test-set (n = 198)samples, discriminating AR from STA with 91% sensitivity and 94% specificity and AR from all other non-AR phenotypes with 91% sensitivity and 90% specificity. The 5-gene set can diagnose AR potentially avoiding the need for invasive renal biopsy. These data support the conduct of a prospective study to validate the clinical predictive utility of this diagnostic tool.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1600-6143.2012.04253.x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000309180000018

    View details for PubMedID 23009139

  • Progressive histological damage in renal allografts is associated with expression of innate and adaptive immunity genes KIDNEY INTERNATIONAL Naesens, M., Khatri, P., Li, L., Sigdel, T. K., Vitalone, M. J., Chen, R., Butte, A. J., Salvatierra, O., Sarwal, M. M. 2011; 80 (12): 1364-1376


    The degree of progressive chronic histological damage is associated with long-term renal allograft survival. In order to identify promising molecular targets for timely intervention, we examined renal allograft protocol and indication biopsies from 120 low-risk pediatric and adolescent recipients by whole-genome microarray expression profiling. In data-driven analysis, we found a highly regulated pattern of adaptive and innate immune gene expression that correlated with established or ongoing histological chronic injury, and also with development of future chronic histological damage, even in histologically pristine kidneys. Hence, histologically unrecognized immunological injury at a molecular level sets the stage for the development of chronic tissue injury, while the same molecular response is accentuated during established and worsening chronic allograft damage. Irrespective of the hypothesized immune or nonimmune trigger for chronic allograft injury, a highly orchestrated regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses was found in the graft at the molecular level. This occurred months before histologic lesions appear, and quantitatively below the diagnostic threshold of classic T-cell or antibody-mediated rejection. Thus, measurement of specific immune gene expression in protocol biopsies may be warranted to predict the development of subsequent chronic injury in histologically quiescent grafts and as a means to titrate immunosuppressive therapy.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/ki.2011.245

    View details for Web of Science ID 000297541900014

    View details for PubMedID 21881554

  • The Dual Role of Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition in Chronic Allograft Injury in Pediatric Renal Transplantation TRANSPLANTATION Vitalone, M. J., Naesens, M., Sigdel, T., Li, L., Hseih, S., Sarwal, M. M. 2011; 92 (7): 787-795


    Tubulointerstitial damage (TID) is a key feature of chronic allograft injury (CAI) and loss. One proposed mechanism attributing to TID is epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT); however, it has recently been shown to be unrelated to early TID in adult renal allografts. This has yet to be studied in late TID or in pediatric renal transplantation; both questions were investigated.By using 83 unique pediatric renal transplant recipients, 126 protocol, serial, posttransplant renal biopsies were examined by centralized, blinded Banff grading for CAI and transcriptional profiling (AffyU133+2.0) at 3 (n=20), 6 (n=45), 12 (n=19), and 24 months (n=42). Two hundred forty-three EMT-associated genes, identified from the literature, were interrogated for their differential expression in biopsies with and without CAI, using standard bioinformatic algorithms.Early (3-6 months) enrichment of EMT (P?0.05) related gene expression was noted, correlating with inflammation in the graft (total i scores), with upregulation of hepatocyte growth factor at 24 months, indicating a time-dependent mechanism of action. We observed a strong correlation of EMT-related gene expression with early interstitial fibrosis (r<0.45) for size-mismatched allograft recipients. Throughout 24 months posttransplant, EMT signaling and epithelial-mesenchymal-epithelial cycling were associated with progressive CAI injury, with the greatest risk factors being ischemia, immune burden, and the calcineurin inhibitor toxicity score.EMT has a role in the evolution of CAI in pediatric transplantation. We postulate that EMT dysregulation plays a dual role in fibrosis/injury repair and healing. The evolution of this chronic injury response stems from size- mismatched transplant ischemia, calcineurin inhibitor nephrotoxicity, and inflammatory response within the allograft.

    View details for DOI 10.1097/TP.0b013e31822d092c

    View details for Web of Science ID 000295319500019

    View details for PubMedID 21952304

  • Biomarkers in solid organ transplantation: establishing personalized transplantation medicine GENOME MEDICINE Roedder, S., Vitalone, M., Khatri, P., Sarwal, M. M. 2011; 3

    View details for DOI 10.1186/gm253

    View details for Web of Science ID 000208627400037

  • Biomarkers in solid organ transplantation: establishing personalized transplantation medicine. Genome medicine Roedder, S., Vitalone, M., Khatri, P., Sarwal, M. M. 2011; 3 (6): 37-?


    Technological advances in molecular and in silico research have enabled significant progress towards personalized transplantation medicine. It is now possible to conduct comprehensive biomarker development studies of transplant organ pathologies, correlating genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic information from donor and recipient with clinical and histological phenotypes. Translation of these advances to the clinical setting will allow assessment of an individual patient's risk of allograft damage or accommodation. Transplantation biomarkers are needed for active monitoring of immunosuppression, to reduce patient morbidity, and to improve long-term allograft function and life expectancy. Here, we highlight recent pre- and post-transplantation biomarkers of acute and chronic allograft damage or adaptation, focusing on peripheral blood-based methodologies for non-invasive application. We then critically discuss current findings with respect to their future application in routine clinical transplantation medicine. Complement-system-associated SNPs present potential biomarkers that may be used to indicate the baseline risk for allograft damage prior to transplantation. The detection of antibodies against novel, non-HLA, MICA antigens, and the expression of cytokine genes and proteins and cytotoxicity-related genes have been correlated with allograft damage and are potential post-transplantation biomarkers indicating allograft damage at the molecular level, although these do not have clinical relevance yet. Several multi-gene expression-based biomarker panels have been identified that accurately predicted graft accommodation in liver transplant recipients and may be developed into a predictive biomarker assay.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/gm253

    View details for PubMedID 21658299

  • Differential Immunogenicity and Clinical Relevance of Kidney Compartment Specific Antigens after Renal Transplantation JOURNAL OF PROTEOME RESEARCH Li, L., Sigdel, T., Vitalone, M., Lee, S. H., Sarwal, M. 2010; 9 (12): 6715-6721


    To evaluate the pathogenic role of non-HLA antibodies after organ transplantation, 81 unique serum samples from renal transplant patients were analyzed by protein array technology on integrative genomics approach (Li, L.; et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2009, 106 (11), 4148-53; Higgins, J. P.; et al. Mol. Biol. Cell 2004, 15 (2), 649-56), validated by ELISA, and the results correlated with clinical relevance with time post-transplantation or post-transplant graft function. There was a significant association of de novo non-HLA antibodies with time post-transplantation (n = 1,785) and decline in graft function over the subsequent year (n = 105). There was an enrichment of immunogenic antigens in the renal cortex (p = 0.01) with post-transplant time, and for glomerular specific targets (p = 0.02) with decline in graft function. Two targets with very strong correlation in each category (AGT and SPDYA) were validated by customized ELISA assays in independent patient sera and their localization confirmed by immunohistochemistry. In conclusion, defined profiles of these non-HLA antibodies to renal cortical proteins develop with increasing length of engraftment, and may reflect the increasing recognition of altered localization or exposure of renal tubular and interstitial proteins, affected by advancing chronic nonimmune graft injury. The panel of non-HLA antibodies to glomerular targets is most interesting, as these corresponding antigenic targets may be important pathways in functional graft injury and could provide novel targets for drug design.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/pr1008674

    View details for Web of Science ID 000284856200054

    View details for PubMedID 20923235

  • Transcriptome Changes of Chronic Tubulointerstitial Damage in Early Kidney Transplantation TRANSPLANTATION Vitalone, M. J., O'Connell, P. J., Wavamunno, M., Fung, C. L., Chapman, J. R., Nankivell, B. J. 2010; 89 (5): 537-547


    Tubulointerstitial damage (TID) is a key feature of chronic kidney transplant failure; however, the associated gene expression changes are poorly defined.This pilot study used RNA from 59 protocol kidney transplant biopsies at implantation, 1, 3, and 12 months (n=18 patients), processed into cDNA and hybridized to 8K human cDNA microarrays. Gene expression was correlated with graft histology categorized by the Banff schema.Gene and pathway expression were differentially activated according to the time after transplantation. Immune pathway activity peaked at 1 month, fibrotic expression at 3 months, wound healing-remodelling and cell proliferation-repair processes were activated between 3 and 12 months, whereas macrophage-related gene expression occurred late by 12 months. Forty percent of genes and 50% pathways initially activated persisted to 3 months. Biopsies with TID displayed 262 differentially expressed genes (P<0.001, B>2 compared with implantation), dominated by upregulated fibrogenic and immune-related genes reflecting unique immune (10% to 15% of genes) and fibrotic (15% vs. 4% in normal) pathway activation. Profibrotic genes were expressed before interstitial fibrosis was observed by sequential microscopic analysis. Kidneys progressing to TID by 3 months demonstrated 30 unique genes (B>1, P<0.05) versus nonprogressors with 95 genes (B>1, P<0.009). Fourteen of these progressor genes also occurred in the top decile from an independent validation set.Allografts display predictable immune and fibrotic gene expression profiles, with patterns of expression gradually varying by time after transplantation. The pathology reflects differential activation of intrinsic pathways. Gene expression predated histologic damage, suggesting its possible use in early diagnostic testing.

    View details for DOI 10.1097/TP.0b013e3181ca7389

    View details for Web of Science ID 000275719900007

    View details for PubMedID 20147884

  • Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition in Early Transplant Tubulointerstitial Damage JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF NEPHROLOGY Vitalone, M. J., O'Connell, P. J., Jimenez-Vera, E., Yuksel, A., Wavamunno, M., Fung, C. L., Chapman, J. R., Nankivell, B. J. 2008; 19 (8): 1571-1583


    It is unknown whether epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) leads to tubulointerstitial fibrosis in renal transplants. In this study, interstitial fibrosis and markers of EMT were followed in protocol transplant biopsies in 24 patients. Tubulointerstitial damage (TID) increased from 34 to 54% between 1 and 3 mo after transplantation. Detection of EMT depended on the marker used; low levels of alpha-smooth muscle actin were found in 61% of biopsies, but the less specific marker S100 calcium binding protein-A4 (also known as Fsp1) suggested a higher incidence of EMT. The presence or development of TID did not correlate with EMT but instead significantly correlated with subclinical immune activity (P < 0.05). Among biopsies showing TID, microarray analysis revealed differential regulation of 127 genes at 1 mo and 67 genes at 3 mo compared with baseline; these genes were predominantly associated with fibrosis, tissue remodeling, and immune response. Of the 173 EMT-associated genes interrogated, however, only 8.1% showed an expression pattern consistent with EMT at 1 mo and 6.3% at 3 mo. The remainder were not differentially altered, or their changes in expression were opposite those expected to promote EMT. Quantitative reverse transcriptase-PCR revealed that the expression pattern of 12 EMT-associated genes was inconsistent over time, opposite that expected, or consistent with subclinical rejection or inflammation. In conclusion, EMT does not seem to play a significant role in the development of early allograft fibrosis.

    View details for DOI 10.1681/ASN.2007050580

    View details for Web of Science ID 000260533700019

    View details for PubMedID 18480317

  • Transplant glomerulopathy: Ultrastructural abnormalities occur early in longitudinal analysis of protocol biopsies AMERICAN JOURNAL OF TRANSPLANTATION Wavamunno, M. D., O'Connell, P. J., Vitalone, M., Fung, C. S., Allen, R. D., Chapman, J. R., Nankivell, B. J. 2007; 7 (12): 2757-2768


    Transplant glomerulopathy (TXG) presents a distinctive pattern of glomerular abnormalities. The aim of this study was to describe its sequential ultrastructural pathology. A paired cohort study of 228 protocol biopsies, from our longitudinal database (n = 1345), compared TXG (7 patients, 95 biopsies) and controls (8 patients, 133 biopsies). Ultrastructural morphometry and C4d immunoperoxidase were evaluated from implantation to 5 years after transplantation against sequential histology and functional changes. TXG was predated by early glomerular endothelial cell activation; typified by vacuolation, hypertrophy, serration and expansion of lamina rara interna from 39 +/- 23 days after transplantation. Endothelial cells were transformed into an activated phenotype, containing numerous mitochondria, Golgi and ribosomes. Transition from fenestrated to continuous endothelium, mesangial matrix expansion and podocyte fusion occurred late. Endothelial cell activation also occurred in peritubular capillaries (PTC) followed by basement membrane multi-lamination (p < 0.05-0.001). Light microscopy changes of TXG occurred at 2.3 years. PTC C4d deposition was intermittently expressed over time, correlating with endothelial abnormalities, glomerular C4d and donor-specific antibodies (DSA) (p < 0.05-0.001). In summary, endothelial and subendothelial ultrastructural abnormalities in glomerular and peritubular capillaries are sensitive, early markers of TXG, likely due to stimulation of endothelial cells into an activated phenotype by antibody-mediated sub-lytic complement deposition.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1600-6143.2007.01995.x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000250585100017

    View details for PubMedID 17924997

  • Mycophenolate mofetil is associated with altered expression of chronic renal transplant histology AMERICAN JOURNAL OF TRANSPLANTATION Nankivell, B. J., Wavamunno, M. D., Borrows, R. J., Vitalone, M., Fung, C., Allen, R. D., Chapman, J. R., O'Connell, P. J. 2007; 7 (2): 366-376


    Mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) reduces acute rejection in controlled trials of kidney transplantation and is associated with better registry graft survival. Recent experimental studies have demonstrated additional antifibrotic properties of MMF, however, human histological data are lacking. We evaluated sequential prospective protocol kidney biopsies from two historical cohorts treated with cyclosporine (CSA)-based triple therapy including prednisolone and either MMF (n = 25) or azathioprine (AZA, n = 25). Biopsies (n = 360) were taken from euglycemic kidney-pancreas transplant recipients. Histology was independently assessed by the Banff schema and electron microscopic morphometry. MMF reduced acute rejection and OKT3 use (p < 0.05) compared with AZA. MMF therapy was associated with limited chronic interstitial fibrosis, striped fibrosis and periglomerular fibrosis (p < 0.05-0.001), mesangial matrix accumulation (p < 0.01), chronic glomerulopathy scores (p < 0.05) and glomerulosclerosis (p < 0.05). MMF was associated with delayed expression of CSA nephrotoxicity, reduced arteriolar hyalinosis, striped fibrosis and tubular microcalcification (p < 0.05-0.001). The beneficial effects of MMF remained in recipients without acute rejection. Retrospective analysis shows that MMF therapy was associated with substantially reduced fibrosis in the glomerular, microvascular and interstitial compartments, and a delayed expression of CSA nephrotoxicity. These outcomes may be due to a limitation of immune-mediated injury and suggest a direct effect of reduced fibrogenesis.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1600-6143.2006.01633.x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000243440100013

    View details for PubMedID 17283486

  • Treatment of subclinical rejection diagnosed by protocol biopsy of kidney transplants TRANSPLANTATION Kee, T. Y., Chapman, J. R., O'Connell, P. J., Fung, C. L., Allen, R. D., Kable, K., Vitalone, M. J., Nankivell, B. J. 2006; 82 (1): 36-42


    Subclinical rejection (SCR) causes chronic allograft damage, which may be prevented by antirejection therapy.A pilot study of the effect of routine treatment of SCR was performed in 88 recipients of either a kidney (n=59) or combined kidney-pancreas transplant (n=29) undergoing protocol biopsy (PBX) surveillance at 1 and 3 months, using calcineurin inhibitors, mycophenolate mofetil, and corticosteroid therapy.SCR was seen in 46.6% (41/88 patients), as 30 borderline and 11 acute SCR. From 279 transplant biopsies, the prevalence of SCR was 25% (22/88) at 1 month, 10.2% (9/88) at 3 months, and 8.3% (2/24) at 12 months PBX. Treatment included bolus intravenous or oral corticosteroids (n=20) and augmented immunosuppression, either by conversion to tacrolimus (n=6) or increased doses of maintenance therapy (n=14), whereas OKT3 was used in one case of subclinical vascular rejection. Borderline episodes were not treated in 12 patients. In biopsies taken to assess therapeutic response, persistent SCR was present in 46.1% (6/13). Treatment of SCR at 1 month was followed by lower acute Banff sum scores at 3 months PBX (P<0.01-0.0001). Early chronic damage was already present in the 1 month PBX, associated with SCR (P<0.0005 versus without SCR), although by 3 months these differences were lost. Rates of opportunistic infections and BK nephropathy were not increased by SCR treatment.Early chronic allograft damage was associated with SCR and therapy appeared to ameliorate further immune-mediated injury, although the efficacy of corticosteroids alone may be inadequate. A controlled trial of therapy for SCR is warranted.

    View details for DOI 10.1097/

    View details for Web of Science ID 000239029800007

    View details for PubMedID 16861939

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