Targeting Epithelial Regeneration for Perioperative Organ Protection
Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Chapel Hill, NC
Jessica Bowser, PhD, chose academic anesthesiology as her career path for the opportunity to overcome clinical challenges that stem from devastating inflammatory conditions and tissue damage, and to collaborate with several anesthesiology thought leaders focused on solving this problem. That journey began with a 2017 IARS Mentored Research Award recognizing her research on “Targeting Epithelial Regeneration for Perioperative Organ Protection.” An instructor at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School at the time, Dr. Bowser set out to identify molecular mechanisms that are therapeutically tractable for promoting epithelial regeneration following acute and chronic inflammation. What she discovered during this investigation was a definable molecular target that is essential for epithelial regeneration and is druggable. This was the launching pad for her research in this area and her career as a scientist. Following the IMRA-funded study, Dr. Bowser was able to secure a competitive tenure-track appointment with a start-up package to fully develop her research program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Additionally, she has established essential national and international collaborations through invited talks and conferences that have pushed her research program forward and helped to develop competitive NIH R01 applications. Now a tenure-track Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Dr. Bowser’s studies have expanded to encompass the areas of genomics, computational biology, and metabolomics with the help of a tremendous group of collaborators. Below, she discusses her research journey, how the IMRA funded study helped her progress as a researcher and advanced her career, and how her research area continues to evolve today.
1. What is your current position?
Tenure-Track Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC
2. How long have you been in this position?
3. What was your role when you were first funded by IARS?
Instructor, University of Texas McGovern Medical School, Houston, TX
4. What was the goal of your initial research project?
To identify molecular mechanisms that are therapeutically tractable for promoting epithelial regeneration following acute/chronic inflammation.
5.Was the goal met?
Yes, we defined a molecular target that is essential for epithelial regeneration and is druggable. Manuscripts for this work are currently under review, and I recently submitted an NIH R01 application. This grant scored favorably, and we are awaiting the decision by the NIH. Two additional NIH R01 applications that developed from the evolution of this work and establishment of multidisciplinary collaborations are also currently under review. These are multi-PI applications.
6. How did your findings impact patient care?
My work is pre-clinical, currently. The impact is that we are closer to understanding and developing therapeutically tractable approaches (specifically, druggable mechanisms) that can directly promote the regeneration of epithelial cells and has the potential to be used in real-time clinical settings. Current regenerative medicine approaches are not optimal for critical care and/or emergency medicine situations and come with the risk of serious medical complications. We are excited about the future of our work and are pushing forward with our multidisciplinary teams to move our findings closer to the clinic.
7. How did your research impact the field of anesthesiology?
The application of a druggable approach to regenerating the epithelial barrier of vital organs (e.g., GI tract, lung) is a new solution to overcoming challenges with devastating inflammatory conditions. It is our hope that our work will provide a new avenue to explore in the field for future advancements in patient care.
8. What drew you to academic anesthesiology and to your particular area of research?
I was drawn to academic anesthesiology because of the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with several outstanding anesthesiologists working to overcome clinical challenges that stem from devastating inflammatory conditions and tissue damage. My lab studies tissue damage and repair relating to regenerative medicine. I wanted to apply our work in regenerative medicine (particularly, our efforts of identifying druggable approaches for promoting epithelial regeneration) to find innovative solutions to help overcome barriers to patient care in the field that arise with life-threatening conditions that destroy the epithelial barrier (e.g., sepsis, MODS, ARDS).
9. Has your research subject area evolved since the award?
Yes. We have expanded our studies into the areas of genomics, computational biology, and metabolomics with the help of a tremendous group of collaborators. Because of this, we are able to ask questions – such as, what is the genomic and metabolic consequences of accelerating epithelial regeneration in tissues in which repair is desperately needed and is induced artificially by drugs? – which are essential to understanding the clinical benefits and potential shortcomings of drug targeting epithelial regeneration.
10. How did the award affect your research/professional trajectory?
It opened doors professionally and provided upward career movement that would have not been possible without the support of the IARS. I secured a competitive tenure-track appointment with a start-up package to fully develop my research program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Additionally, I have been able to establish essential national and international collaborations through invited talks and conferences that have pushed my research program forward and helped to develop competitive NIH R01 applications (individual applications and multi-PI applications).
11. How do you feel about having received the IARS Mentored Research Award?
Very fortunate. The support by the IARS came at a very important time in my career in which developing independence, building a research program, and establishing collaborations are critical for being successful in competing for funding at the national level (e.g., NIH R01 mechanism). The IARS award provided me the opportunity to build this essential foundation, which has made all the difference in my career.
12. What is something that someone would be surprised to learn about you?
I was a highly competitive NCAA Division I track & field athlete, competing in events such as the heptathlon, high hurdles, and pole vault. This is often surprising because I am a towering height of 5’3”.