CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A team led by UVA associate professor Swapnil K. Sonkusare recently made a discovery that could put an end to Ischemia-Reperfusion injury, a major cause of what is known as “primary graft dysfunction,” the leading cause of death within 30 days of a lung transplant.

“We have discovered a series of proteins in this mechanism that work together that increase vascular leakage and inflammation. 

For patients, some degree of ischemia-reperfusion injury is inevitable after organ transplants. 

The injury is caused by tissues being traumatized when they are disconnected from their original blood supply. In more severe cases, scientists have struggled to understand the underlying causes. 

But Sonkusare’s team has found some answers. 

“If we can target these proteins we can improve the success of lung transplantation,” Sonkusare said. 

The scientists found that blocking key steps in the protein pathway prevented inflammation and lung damage in lab mice. 

That suggests a promising approach for preventing the same problems in human transplant recipients, though much more research will be needed. 

RJ Redstrom, was the second person in the country to receive a double lung transplant. He says the doctors at UVA Health performed a miracle that saved his life. 

“I'll tell you; I think the folks that are doing this know what they are doing, they have the best practices, give great advice and are very encouraging,” Redstrom said. 

Redstrom says that this new finding is promising to hear because although he defied odds in survival, many do not.  

“It's something that helps with longevity and rejection, that's what all transplant folks need,” Redstrom said.

Since Redstrom’s transplant in 2020, hundreds have now received a double lung transplant successfully, many of which have been completed at UVA.