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August 6, 2013 - USA College of Medicine Collaborates to take Research from ‘Bench to Bedside’
From left: Dr. Mark Gillespie, professor and chair of pharmacology; Dr. Larry Lee; Dr. Jon Simmons, trauma surgeon and assistant professor of surgery; and Dr. William Richards, professor and chair of surgery

After completing two years of residency in general surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, Dr. Larry Lee decided to take a year hiatus from residency training to enhance his education and appreciation for the basic science aspect of clinical care by conducting research with Dr. Mark Gillespie, professor and chair of pharmacology.

Dr. Lee, who investigates multiple organ dysfunction syndrome in trauma patients, was recently awarded first place in the Alabama chapter of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Residents Poster Competition for his research presentation.

Dr. Lee is also the recipient of an American Heart Association post doctoral fellowship, which funds this research project, along with a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In addition to being an exciting step for Dr. Lee, the award also recognizes the recent, unique collaboration between USA’s department of pharmacology, department of surgery and a host of clinicians and scientists.

Since the beginning of this research project in 2011, Dr. Gillespie, along with Dr. William Richards, professor and chair of surgery; and Dr. Jon Simmons, trauma surgeon and assistant professor of surgery, have led the partnership, a collaboration that, according to Dr.Richards, is the way of the future for the department of surgery to conduct meaningful NIH-funded research and to open doors for the basic scientists to explore clinically relevant problems.

“Biomedical research now requires translation from basic science to clinical science- from the bench to the bedside,” explained Dr. Richards. “We are placing our residents in the basic science labs where they are working on first-class, biomedical research.”

The focus of this research project is to better understand why some trauma patients who are resuscitated and treated with medications and surgery appear to initially recover, but then go on to develop multiple organ failure days later.

“At the point when the patient develops multiple organ failure, there’s little we can do except to support them and hope that it gets better,” explained Dr. Richards.

According to Dr. Lee’s presentation, for the first time in history, this research has identified what could be causing the chain of events leading to multiple organ failure in trauma patients. “If someone is severely injured, this causes mitochondrial DNA damage,” explained Dr. Lee. “The damage results in mitochondrial DNA fragments entering into circulation and causing an inflammatory response, which we’ve associated with multiple organ failure.”

Dr. Gillespie noted that in addition to making a breakthrough in multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, the team has also identified a potential therapy and target for new drugs.

The last USA recipient of the ACS Alabama Resident Poster Competition was Dr. Josh Chouteau in 2011, also a research fellow in Dr. Gillespie’s lab. Dr. Chouteau broke out of his clinical residency to initiate studies in Dr. Gillespie’s lab that served as a foundation for Dr. Lee’s award-winning research.

“For Dr. Lee’s project to be recognized by the Alabama chapter of the ACS out of all the different surgical programs in the state of Alabama, shows his outstanding work, and that our team, including trauma surgeons Drs. Dick Gonzalez and Sid Brevard, successfully translated basic science discoveries into clinically relevant information that deepens our understanding of why some trauma patients fail to respond to treatment,” said Dr. Richards.

“The collaboration of scientists and physicians is greater than the work we do individually,” Dr. Richards added. “We are excited about working with basic science researchers in addition to clinicians like Dr. Jon Simmons –each of whom bring a unique perspective to the table. This research project was made possible by the many surgeons, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, administrators, technicians and physicians who provide expert care to the patients admitted to the USA Level 1 Trauma and Burn Center.”

Referencing the clinical care, research and teaching that he has contributed to during the past three years, Lee said that “there are long hours and hard work, but it’s been a truly incredible experience.”

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