Wendy Walker, Ph.D., assistant professor in Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Center of Emphasis in Infectious Diseases, recently received a $50,000 grant to study how the immune system plays a role during the life-threatening infectious process termed sepsis.
The 2019 Society of Critical Care Medicine Weil Research Grant will allow Walker to continue research that was initially supported by TTUHSC El Paso’s seed grant program. Seed grants support early-stage faculty research with a goal of making their ideas competitive for national-level awards.
“It’s nice to see how an institutional seed grant supported the preliminary research that made me able to successfully compete for an external grant,” Walker said.
Walker’s research focuses on how different immune cells contribute to the body’s response during this life-threatening disorder, which has a mortality rate of up to 50 percent.
“The immune system is a double-edged sword in this context, because it is essential in fighting the infection, but over-activation of some of its parts can contribute to a worse outcome,” Walker said.
Each year, at least 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, 4,268 Texas died as a result of septicemia, a bacterial infection that spreads into the bloodstream, triggering sepsis. Texas’ death rate was seventh-highest in the United States.
Using a mouse model of sepsis, Walker is working toward understanding the different roles in sepsis of two populations of immune cells, known as macrophages and monocytes, with a long-term goal of manipulating their actions to improve clinical outcomes.
“This grant will allow me to define the functions of these cells as sepsis develops,” Walker said. “I hope that the new insights that we learn will give us an idea of how we might target them to reduce mortality and, ultimately, to cure this serious disorder.”
The Weil Research Trust was created in 2015 to fund research grants. Named for the Society’s founder and first president, Dr. Max Harry Weil, the Weil Research Trust represents the Critical Care Medicine Society’s commitment to the discovery and innovation needed to improve medical care.