Surgery researchers honored with Wethington Awards in 2020

Three UK Department of Surgery researchers, Dr. Hiroshi Saito, Dr. Marlene Starr, and Dr. Dongfang Wang, were again named Wethington Award recipients for 2020.

Wethington Awards, administered and funded by the College of Medicine’s Dean’s Office, annually recognizes the achievements of UK research faculty in securing major grants and support for their clinical and scientific research endeavors. 

All three researchers have been multiple year recipients of Wethington Awards.

Thanks in large part to being continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, Dr. Saito has been a Wethington Award winner nearly every year since 2011.

He and his research group have been working on two NIH-funded projects in recent years. The first aims to understand the age-dependent severity of acute pancreatitis. The other is to gain insight into the mechanisms for chronic muscle weakness after recovery from sepsis.

Dr. Starr has been a Wethington Award recipient every year since 2015. Dr. Starr’s research focuses on two areas. One is comparing immunophenotypes and immune cell function in adipose tissue during aging and obesity, two hugely different conditions which lead to similar pathologies related to cardiovascular disease. Her recent work has identified visceral fat-resident gamma delta T cells as primary contributors to age-associated chronic inflammation.

Another major research focus is sepsis, a severe acute inflammatory condition. Her lab has shown that adipose tissue is a major source of pro-inflammatory and pro-coagulant mediators during sepsis and that secretion of these mediators from visceral fat may contribute to the development of distant organ injury, especially acute kidney injury during sepsis.

Her two main grants include an NIH R01 entitled “Visceral fat gamma delta T cells in sepsis pathogenesis.” She also has an NIH R56 grant: “The role of gamma delta T cells in age-associated adipose tissue inflammation.” Dr. Starr is also collaborating with UK researchers on several smaller pilot grants.

Dr. Wang, Director of the Artificial Organ Laboratory at UK and a recognized expert in heart and lung assist devices, has been a Wethington Award honoree for many years. The 2020 Wethington Award is for two grants. The first is an NIH Small Business Innovation Research grant through W-Z Biotech, “Transapical To Aorta Neonate Left Ventricular Assist Device,” with a budget of $1.5 million.

The second is a $3.9 million U.S. Department of Defense sponsored grant for Medical Research Programs for the “Development of a Paracorporeal Pump-Integrated Artificial Lung for Transport of Warfighters with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).”

The Department of Surgery expresses its congratulations to all three to have received this special honor.