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Dr. Jon Simmons, assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, recently received two grants for his research – one from the American Heart Association and one from the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma.
The American Heart Association Mentored Clinical & Population Research Award totaled $154,000.
According to Dr. Simmons, more than 50 percent of trauma patients that receive massive blood transfusions develop severe lung inflammation that does not resolve and often leads to death or permanent disability.
“This becomes highly significant because the injuries that lead to the blood loss are often repaired,” Dr. Simmons said. “The only significant long-term injury is often the debilitating lung dysfunction that occurs after the blood transfusions.”
A recent study performed by Dr. Simmons at USA determined that blood transfusion products contain varying quantities of mitochondrial DNA fragments, which are very inflammatory to the lung.
“Our data also demonstrate the potential for a currently-available drug to effectively deplete the mitochondrial DNA from transfusion products,” he said. “Validating this concept would immediately improve the outcomes of patients with massive transfusions from severe trauma.”
Dr. Mark Gillespie, professor and chair of pharmacology and a member of the Center for Lung Biology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, serves as the mentor of this research project.
“I am honored to collaborate with Jon Simmons and his colleagues in the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care on this project,” Dr. Gillespie said. “Jon, in particular, is one of the brightest and energetic young clinician-scientists with whom I’ve ever worked, and I have no doubt that his recent awards will impact positively on patient care.”
The second grant, the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma Research and Education Foundation Fellowship Award, totals $50,000. In this project, Dr. Simmons will attempt to answer a question that has puzzled physicians for decades: “Why does infection lead to organ failure despite the fact that antibiotics eradicate the bacteria almost immediately?”
“Historically, this is understood to be secondary to the release of mediators that activate inflammatory cells causing the organ dysfunction,” Dr. Simmons said. “Based on the previous research done in Dr Gillespie's lab at the USA Center for Lung Biology, we believe the inflammatory mediator that drives this reaction is mitochondrial DNA fragments that are released by inflammatory and noninflammatory cells secondary to the oxidative stress created by the initial infection.”
Dr. Simmons said this research will provide the first observational evidence linking mitochondrial DNA release to the evolution of local and distant organ failure in patients after infection. It will also assist in identifying isolated targets for pharmacologic intervention in ventilator associated pneumonia – a type of hospital-acquired pneumonia that occurs in people who are receiving mechanical ventilation – and will provide the evidence necessary to immediately start clinical trials with a medication that is already approved by the FDA for the prevention of pneumonia.
"This close collaboration between the USA Center for Lung Biology and the USA Division of Trauma has placed our Trauma Center in the national spotlight,” Dr. Simmons said. “The patient care and research that occurs at the USA Medical Center is truly world-class, and I feel privileged to be a part of it."
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