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Dr. Mike Lin, assistant professor of physiology and cell biology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, recently was awarded a $1 million four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the link between hospital-acquired pneumonia and dementia.
According to Dr. Lin, patients in intensive care units are at an increased risk for developing long-term health threats, including cognitive impairment. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about one in 25 hospital patients has at least one infection contracted during the course of their hospital stay,” he said. “Among the infections, bacterial pneumonia is the second most prevalent and is the most direly linked to outcomes.”
Testimonials, reviews and calls-to-action are on the rise on this Post Critical Care Syndrome, Dr. Lin said the causative mechanisms that lead to abrupt cognitive impairment cannot only be ascribed to age, gender, relative brain hypoxia, anesthetics and sedatives.
His study aims to gain insight on the mechanisms leading to abrupt cognitive impairment among patients in intensive care units. “Despite advances in medicine that have significantly prolonged life expectancy, the disease associated neurodegeneration and dementia is increasingly worrisome,” Dr. Lin said.
According to Dr. Troy Stevens, director of the USA Center for Lung Biology and Lenoir Louise Locke Chair of Physiology and Cell Biology at the USA College of Medicine, Dr. Lin’s research provides a novel therapeutic target to improve patient outcomes. “In the last ten plus years, it has become recognized that one of the major problems exhibited among patients who become critically ill is impairment in cognitive function,” he said. “Dr. Lin offers a previously unappreciated mechanism of disease in critically ill patients, as previous research has not linked infection-induced amyloids to the decline in cognitive function."
Aberrant protein aggregation is a known mechanism that links to several diseases affecting cognition, memory, neuromuscular and cardiovascular function. “This research addresses a novel mechanism underlying the end organ dysfunction that is evident during and in the aftermath of critical illness,” Dr. Lin said. “We found that patients in the ICU who contract nosocomial pneumonia have high levels of ‘toxins’ in their bodily fluids, compared to critically ill patients who do not have bacterial pneumonia.
Last year, Dr. Lin was among five other USA researchers who received the 2017 College of Medicine Faculty Intramural Grants Program Research Awards, which provided seed funding to support this project.
Dr. Lin credits institutional support and input from his collaborators for helping to secure his first R01 grant, including Drs. Troy Stevens, Ron Balczon, and Xiangming Zha of the University of South Alabama, Drs. Brant Wagener and Jean-Francois Pittet of The University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Dr. Jacob Raber of Oregon Health and Science University. “Previous studies conducted at the USA Center for Lung Biology on Pseudomonas aeruginosa – a prevalent cause of nosocomial pneumonia – and key biological specimens provided by his collaborators, all played an instrumental role”, he said.
The Research Project Grant, or R01 grant, is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by NIH. R01 provides support for health-related research and development based on the mission of the NIH. This is Dr. Lin’s first R01 grant, which follows up on an early stage R00 funding, also from the NIH.
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