2018 Sherman Emerging Leader Prize Recipient

Amy L. Lightner, MD

[Updated 2023] Professor of Surgery, Scripps Clinic, San Diego, CA; Chief Medical Officer, Direct Biologics

An accomplished surgeon and researcher Dr. Amy Lightner received the 2018 Sherman Emerging Leader Prize for exploring new frontiers in regenerative medicine.

Investigating What’s Next

In college, Dr. Amy Lightner thought she had a career ahead as a writer. Volunteering in a reading program at a local children’s hospital, she met a cardiac surgeon who got her interested in medicine and changed her life’s trajectory towards one of dedication to medicine and science.

[Updated 2019], Dr. Lightner is the Director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Surgery; Associate Professor of Colorectal Surgery at the Digestive Disease Institute; Associate Professor of Inflammation and Immunity at the Lerner Research Institute; and a Core Member in the Center for Immunotherapy at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio. She specializes in colon and rectal surgery and advancing research on regenerative cellular and acellular-based therapeutic approaches for IBD.

Dr. Lightner applies her surgical skills to some of the most complex surgical cases in IBD — reconstructive pouches. Surgical removal of the colon and rectum and the creation of an internal pouch, called proctocolectomy with ileal pouch-anal anastomosis, is the most commonly performed restorative surgery in ulcerative colitis, allowing individuals to avoid a permanent ostomy bag.

However, about ten to fifteen percent of patients will have pouch failure – which typically means they will receive a permanent ostomy. Dr. Lightner offers these patients an alternative. She is among a small group of surgeons across the country who are skilled at pouch reconstruction – giving patients a chance at an ostomy-free life.

“Medicine as a whole is moving in the direction of regenerative medicine and I’m doing research to find the next paradigm-shifting treatment derived from our own cells.”

While pushing the boundaries of reconstructive pouch surgery, as well as minimally invasive surgical techniques, Dr. Lightner is a surgeon who actually wants to see fewer IBD surgeries.

She’s currently pursuing research in innovative stem cell and acellular therapies to try to offer her patients non-surgical alternatives.

After seeing early success in treating IBD fistulas with stem cells derived from donor bone marrow or adipose tissue, Dr. Lightner plans to initiate a Phase 1 trial to explore a novel regenerative acellular therapy.

This trial would be the first of its kind in perianal fistula, which affects approximately twenty-five percent of people with Crohn’s disease. These fistulas cause inflammation, pain and stool incontinence and are difficult to treat. Up to a fifth of patients will end up having their rectum removed and getting an ostomy.

“If we are successful in injecting this novel acellular regenerative therapy around the tract of the fistula, enabling it to heal, it could change the landscape of Crohn’s disease.”

How to Nominate

2023 Update

Dr. Lightner is now working both in academia and industry. She is Professor of Surgery at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, CA where she is founding a Center for Regenerative Medicine alongside operating on patients with IBD. Also, she is Chief Medical Officer at a late-stage biotechnology company, Direct Biologics where she oversees clinical trial programs and RandD facilities.