Department of Anesthesiology Research Accomplishments and Initiatives

The Department of Anesthesiology has a long-standing program of basic, translational, and clinical research that extends back to its founding almost 80 years ago. When Dr. Harvey Slocum established the department in 1941, one of his first acts was to hire a physiology researcher, Charles Allen, to join the faculty and build a research program to work in parallel with the department’s clinical mission. Allen subsequently trained as a physician, and succeeded Slocum as chairman in 1955. From these early beginnings, the Department of Anesthesiology has built a robust research program that today advances science in multiple, interlocked areas including traumatic brain injury, burn and smoke inhalation, sepsis, immunology, pain research, shock, non-invasive optoacoustic diagnostic technology, stem cell-based tissue engineering, and molecular pharmacology.

Dedicated research facilities include:

  • The Translational Intensive Care Unit (TICU),that provides continuous intensive care to large animals (mostly sheep and pigs) subjected to various disease conditions that closely mimic life-threatening acute morbidities in humans i.e., sepsis, ALI/ARDS, polytrauma such as burn, hemorrhagic shock, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury. The TICU is one of the most advanced facilities for work with large animal models in the country, and draws collaboration from researchers at many other educational institutions and the private sector.
  • The Resuscitation Research Laboratory (RRL) performs translation research moving concept and invention to prototypes, animal testing, human trials and commercialization. One recent focus of the RRL has been in developing automated closed loop and decision assist resuscitation protocols and devices to be used for combat casualty care and pre-hospital trauma care.
  • The Molecular Pharmacology Group is the pathogenesis and experimental therapy of various forms of critical illness. By combining the methods of pharmacology, physiology, pathophysiology, biochemistry, molecular biology and chemical genomics (including target-based and phenotypic screening), the group is involved in studies identifying pathomechanisms and potential novel therapeutic targets for vascular and organ dysfunction during circulatory shock, burn injury and traumatic brain injury.
  • The Charles R. Allen Research Laboratories includes four small animal surgical and monitoring laboratories, three behavioral outcome assessment laboratories and an animal housing area used for studies of the long-term effects of TBI. The labs include four animal research laboratories equipped for aseptic surgery and monitoring, as well as three behavioral assessment laboratories equipped to evaluate the effects of TBI on memory and the effects of TBI on brain blood vessels.
  • Immunology Research focuses on understanding how the immune system is dysregulated after severe trauma and how it can be manipulated pharmacologically to decrease the incidence of life-threatening infections, accelerate wound healing, and regulate metabolism after injury. A primary focus of investigation is the use of a dendritic cell growth factor as a prophylactic treatment after injury to increase resistance to infections. Current specific areas of interest include mechanisms utilized by dendritic cells to enhance neutrophil-mediated clearance of bacteria and stimulate the proliferation and migration of cells that generate new skin in healing wounds.
  • The Internal Medicine/Anesthesiology Stem Cell Laboratory is located in the Mary Moody Northen Pavilion at UTMB. The laboratory is a state-of-the-art facility designed to explore and facilitate stem cell classification, differentiation into adult cell types, and development of potential clinical applications of stem cells. Equipped for cell and tissue culture; immunology studies; isolation, characterization and the culture of stem cell populations and development of stem cell-based therapies.

The Department of Anesthesiology has an active extramural grants program. In the past year, Anesthesiology investigators have submitted roughly three dozen original grant applications or subawards to applications originating with other institutions or private industry. Current research funding for Department of Anesthesiology projects comes from sources as diverse as NIH, the Department of Defense, Shriners of North America, and the Moody Foundation. Departmental researchers have ongoing collaborative partnerships or collaborative work with medical device and pharmaceutical startup companies that work toward commercialization of UTMB partnered technologies. Some of these companies include Arcos Medical, CBS Therapeutics, Noninvasix, Prospiria, Resuscitation Solutions, Masimo, Nonin, Sotera Mobile, Empirical Medical, Protrero Medical, Bard, Vidacare, Radikal Therapeutics, Inc., Plentex, Clarassance, Fehring Pharmaceuticals, and EyeTracking.

The department currently has over 30 active Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocols, with 8-10 new IRB protocols are submitted each year. The NIH, Department of Defense, Shriners, other foundations and departmental resources support clinical research in our department. Specific project areas focus on burn injury, sepsis, trauma, anesthesia, resuscitation, airway, pain and tissue engineering and transplant. Studies are performed in volunteers in the Institute for Translational Sciences (ITS) and in the operating room and ICU.

Department of Anesthesiology investigators continue to receive honors and accolades from the international research community. In 2016, Dr. Csaba Szabo was the recipient of the 2016 Pharmacia-ASPET Award for Experimental Therapeutics by the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). The Pharmacia-ASPET Award recognizes and stimulates outstanding research in pharmacology and experimental therapeutics, basic laboratory or clinical research that has had, or potentially will have, a major impact on the pharmacological treatment of disease. Dr. Szabo is highly regarded as a world renowned expert in the fields of oxidative and nitrosative stress, gaseous transmitters, cell death, cell dysfunction, cardiovascular, and inflammatory mechanisms. Over the last decade, his work significantly advanced our understanding of the physiological and pathological roles and translational potential of hydrogen sulfide, a novel endogenous gasotransmitter signaling molecule.

Pioneering work by Drs. Joaquin Cortiella and Joan Nichols in the development of a bioengineered lung has received wide international acclaim. Dr. Nichols presented a TED Talk (see below) on the subject in 2015, and their work was recently featured in WIRED magazine and in Science: Translational Medicine.