What are some highlights of your time at U-M since arriving in 2017?
Moving to U-M was a great decision for my research program and my career. There are many benefits of being faculty at U-M. One of the biggest highlights has been the surprising number of outstanding scientists and clinicians looking to collaborate and develop novel scientific inquiries. Additionally, it has been exciting to see all the incredible students and early career scientists that want to get involved with our research or join our research team. I brought a core of outstanding scientists with me to U-M and since arriving, we have been fortunate to continue to bring in talented, enthusiastic people to grow and expand our research team. Finally, I have been very impressed with the focus here at U-M on undertaking big initiatives and developing programs to have a big impact on medicine. A prime example of this is our recent grant submission to the American Heart Association to become a Strategically Focused Research Network. This network is lead by Dr. Neumar as the center director, and I am fortunate enough to serve as the PI of the basic science project. This project brings together basic laboratory research, clinical trial research, population health research, and a fellowship training program to focus on reshaping the way we test and implement therapies for cardiac arrest patients. This massive undertaking would not be possible without exceptional leadership of Dr. Neumar and support from Dr. Ward and the team at MCIRCC. The Proposal Development Unit at MCIRCC played an integral role in taking on this huge project and developing an exciting and highly competitive proposal.
How has MCIRCC helped to move your work forward?
MCIRCC has been an amazing resource for the progress of our research. Dr. Wider and I were fortunate to be awarded a Massey TBI Grand Challenge grant. The project has been a great opportunity to expand my research program into the TBI arena. I have spent my career studying acute brain injury following ischemic insults to the brain. It was very enlightening to learn about the exciting research here at U-M investigating the pathophysiology of TBI at the last Massey Grand Challenge. There are many mechanistic similarities between TBI and brain ischemia, and with Massey Foundation support, we have been able to begin novel investigations into TBI that we otherwise could not have pursued. We are hoping this project leads to a novel therapy for limiting brain injury following TBI, but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves.
Research in your lab is focused on understanding brain damage caused by ischemic insults during cardiac arrest, ischemic stroke, and neonatal hypoxia/ischemia. What spurred your interest in studying brain damage?
I have always had a specific interest in neuroscience and pathophysiology. Molecular mechanisms and mitochondrial dysfunction were fascinating to me during my training. My initial investigations were in the pathologic progression of brain injury following global brain ischemia, as a patient would endure during cardiac arrest. As I continued my molecular investigations into brain injury in this disease, I quickly began to see similarities in brain injury following stroke or newborns exposed to hypoxia. This led to us expanding our investigations into these diseases and make novel discoveries across multiple pathologies.
The MitoLux, a therapeutic device to address brain injury, is currently in trials with large animal models to be followed by human clinical trials. Having (almost) been through the complete process of bringing what started as an idea to the point of being a usable device in the clinic, what advice can you offer young researchers just starting out?
We are very excited about the MitoLUX device and its potential for treating brain injury. This therapy is based on an approach we call " non-invasive mitochondrial modulation." It is based on a fundamental discovery by my collaborator (Dr. Maik Huttemann). They discovered that mitochondrial activity can be altered, non-invasively, with specific wavelengths of infrared light. Together, we have been developing this idea into a viable therapeutic approach. We are capitalizing on the inherent ability of infrared light to pass through tissue and modulate mitochondrial activity to provide neuroprotection following an ischemic insult. I think the most important advice I can provide to someone in the early stages of discovery is to remain a skeptic. One of the most critical aspects to our success so far has been our solid grasp of the mechanism of action and our thorough pre-clinical validation. Had we gotten overly excited and attempted to rush this technology through to people, we would not have had the understanding critical to successful utilization of this technology. Instead, we remained skeptical. We tested, validated, tested again, and re-validated. This exhausting testing has set us up for success and really allowed us to bring this forward toward clinical use.
When you find time away from the lab, what do you like to do?
I am an avid fisherman, and greatly enjoy heading to northern Michigan for a fishing weekend to chase the annual salmon and steelhead runs into the river. However, as a father of 2 little boys (5 and 7 years old), I don't really get too much time for hobbies of my own anymore. When I am not working, I really enjoy getting outside and playing baseball with my boys. I coach both their little league teams and I love to get out with the kids and teach them the game. We love spending our Saturdays at the ball park. After this winter, I am especially ready to get outside!