Recognition Research

Four-Year Grant Awarded to Acute and Critical Care Research Project

Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis is an institution full of gifted surgeons who conduct innovative, life-saving research in the pursuit of life-saving medicine. This work ranges from studies to help treat long-term conditions to surgeries for acute injuries. Our Department of Surgery is proud to announce the addition of a new research project to an already expansive research program.

Isaiah Turnbull, MD, PhD is a surgeon at Washington University who specializes in acute and critical care surgery. He has been a member of the School of Medicine, learning and treating patients, since he began his master’s in 2008. His internship, residencies, and fellowships have been conducted with General Surgery. His work as a researcher has also been extensive during his time in the department, with a multitude of research projects and scientific publications.

About his time at Washington University, Turnbull says: “The depth and breadth of the research community at WashU is unparalleled. I have been fortunate to find mentors and collaborators across the medical campus that have greatly contributed to my success as an investigator. The ICTS is a particularly powerful resource for junior investigators and the ICTS cores have been incredibly helpful to my science. And all throughout, my Division Chief has worked to support my progress as a surgeon-scientist. Dr. Bochicchio’s support has been absolutely critical to my success.”

Most recently, Dr. Turnbull has sought funding for a long-term research endeavor in his lab, and it is with great excitement that he announces this research has received a grant award. Dr. Turnbull is the recipient of a DoD CTRA grant, an R01-equivalent grant from the Military Burn Research Program that will provide $1.5 million in total funding, which will be administered through our Department of Surgery over the next four years. Dr. Turnbull is the PI of this grant, and funds will support a new collaboration between his lab and the US Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center.

Dr. Turnbull recounted to us the process of pursuing this grant. “This project has been in the works for over a year. We are fortunate to have a strong collaboration with the Air Force through the CSTARs (Center for the Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills) program. This program brings active duty Air Force personnel to WashU who work as surgeons in our division. We also recruited Dr. Jeffery Bailey after his retirement from the Air Force.

Working with my military partners highlighted to me the importance of providing care to injured military personnel, and Dr. Bailey put me in contact with military investigators with common scientific goals. We were able to identify a request for grant applications that was directly in line with our scientific goals, and over a period of several months, we put together a strong application. These grant applications are always challenging, but with great work by our grant administrator, Star Drennen, and collaborators at the Center for National Trauma Research, we were able clear all the administrative hurdles involved in a multi-institution grant.”

“The goal of this project,” Dr. Turnbull explains, “is to define the mechanisms of immunosuppression induced by burn injury. I truly believe this project will impact the care of burn-injured soldiers.”

Dr. Turnbull shares the framework of this project: “Up to half of severely injured burn patients will develop a secondary infection after their burn. Infection is the most common complication after burn and the leading cause of death for severely burned patients. In part this is because the burn injury dysregulates the immune system, leaving patients immunocompromised and unable to fight off invading pathogens.

Our goal is to define the effects of burn on the immune system and to identify the molecular mechanism of immune dysfunction induced by burn with the long term goal of restoring immune function using immune stimulant drugs. We have developed a practical assay that measures clinically relevant immune function. We’ve previously used this assay to identify suppression of the immune system in critically ill patients with sepsis and more recently those with COVID-19. We pair the assay with high-resolution molecular immunophenotyping assays to identify the molecular mechanisms of immune suppression that can be targeted with immune stimulant therapies.”

This project will have great positive impact on service members, but Dr. Turnbull also anticipates the research outcomes will have positive impacts for other non-service trauma patients.

“Severe burns are a serious civilian public health problem. We have focused on the military population, because the combat-related burn injuries often have other associated traumatic injuries that further contribute to the immune dysfunction induced by burn. These combat-related burn injured patients are the most likely to benefit from immune stimulant therapy.

That said, we would like to extend these studies to civilian burn patients and also to non-burn severely injured trauma patients that we take care of here at our Level-1 trauma center.”

Dr. Turnbull thanks Washington University for its continued support of his career over the past fourteen years and hopes to continue deepening the commitment and success of research within the department. Dr. Turnbull sees patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.