Horacio Rilo

Research Interests

HORACIO L. RILO, MD an Innovator, Inventor, Surgeon, Patient advocate and Community educator. As a translational scientist, Horacio L. Rilo, MD, has knowledge and a keen interest in a wide variety of people and disciplines, from engineering, to physiology, to medicine and public health. His understanding of disparate fields allows him to draw creative conclusions, which in turn can move innovations to patients’ bedsides faster. He has published over 250 original research papers, many in collaboration with investigators from around the world, authored 15 book chapters and co-edited two books. He is a frequent presenter at national and international meetings.

Dr. Rilo is the director of the Center for Cellular Transplantation in the Department of Surgery. His work can’t be pigeon-holed, but the thread that runs through all of his pursuits is regenerative medicine and a passionate drive to ensure that transplant patients get the very best that science and medicine can offer. The theme in his transplantation work is “yourself to yourself.” In other words, he is finding ways to transplant your own cells into your body to treat and regenerate diseased tissues and physiological processes. Dr. Rilo’s work falls into three areas: translational research, clinical patient care, and community advocacy.

TRANSLATIONAL RESEARCH PROJECTS
Cellular encapsulation—finding ways to perfect the coating around islet cells is a priority, so that when they are placed in a liver during a cellular transplantation procedure, the islet cells will not be attacked by other cells that “think” they are invaders.

Stem cell therapy—harvesting adults stem cells from the fat and bone marrow, storing them, and then using them later to regenerate other tissue is part of Dr. Rilo’s research.

Kidney and pancreas preservation for transplantation—when kidneys are harvested from donors, the choice of fluid in which they are packaged and transported can affect the outcome for the organ recipient. Dr. Rilo’s lab has determined which fluid offers the best nutrients and environment for the organs, and he is working on ways to educate surgeons about what they should request before kidney transport. He also is determining if this fluid works well enough for kidneys that would normally be excluded from the donor pool due to age or time of death, to be transplanted.

Kidney markers in urine that indicate kidney failure—50 people who have either already had a kidney transplant or soon will are enrolled in study to determine if there are biomarkers in urine that indicate when a transplanted kidney will succeed or fail.

Wound healing and artificial skin—Dr. Rilo is collaborating with plastic surgeons on news to heal wounds more efficiently with skin grafts.

Zebra fish model—Dr. Rilo was the first researcher at the UA to use this animal model for his studies. The zebra fish is uniquely suited because it has half the genes of humans and they are in the same sequence.

CLINICAL PATIENT CARE
Islet cell transplantation—UA surgeons are the first in the Southwest to perform successful auto-islet cell transplants in patients with severe chronic pancreatitis, an extremely painful condition. The procedure involves removing the pancreas and then putting the patient’s insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells back into the body. In an auto-or self- islet transplant after a total pancreatectomy, the patient’s own insulin-producing beta cells contained in clusters called “islets” are isolated immediately from the removed pancreas. They are then placed back in the patient’s liver where they lodge in small blood vessels and release insulin. Dr. Rilo’s specially designed a “Class 10,000” clean room to harvest the islet cells. Work is underway to obtain FDA approval to for this type of cellular transplant for Type 1 diabetic patients.

COMMUNITY ADVOCACY
Diabetes Management and Prevention Project—Dr. Rilo’s goal with this project, which was undertaken in partnership with several community groups, was to determine if patient education alone had a positive impact on blood sugar management. Diabetes is called the silent killer, because the disease can be quite progressed before a patient has symptoms. Armed with the facts, many patients will modify their behavior and reduce the possibility of complications.