Interview with Kosaka Best of Meeting Award Winner: Jacob Basak, MD, PhD

Kosaka Best of Meeting Award Winner – Scholars:
Jacob Basak, MD, PhD, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Abstract Title: “Bacterial Sepsis Increases Fibrillary Amyloid Load and Neuroinflammation in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s disease Pathology”

What is your professional title and institution? How long have you been there?

My current title is a critical care fellow in the department of anesthesiology at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. I started in the MD/PhD program at Washington University in 2005 and have stayed here for my anesthesiology residency and critical care fellowship. I will be leaving at the end of this month to join the faculty in the department of anesthesiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.

Why is the IARS Annual Meeting valuable to you?

The IARS meeting provides for an excellent environment to showcase my research to others in the anesthesiology world and receive useful feedback from many of the leaders in the field. I am able to learn about new ideas and projects that are being performed in other departments both in the US and around the world that will likely shape the future of anesthesia practice.  I also find that the IARS meeting provides a great forum to network with my fellow colleagues and develop potential collaborations for research projects in the future. The size of the meeting is very manageable and encourages early trainees to interact with department chairs and many well-known clinical and basic science researchers from around the world. Finally, as a young investigator I have received a lot of benefit from the Scholars’ Day Program that is specifically geared toward those trying to start their research career. It is great to hear the perspectives and advice from the different panel members on this day, and it is very encouraging that many of the senior leaders are present for this part of the meeting to promote the development of the future of the anesthesia field.

How does this annual meeting set itself apart from other annual meetings that you attend?

I would say the main thing that sets the IARS meeting apart from other annual meetings is the comfortable number of attendees. This provides a unique environment where early-stage trainees are able to interact with potential future mentors in an approachable and manageable setting, and at the same time learn about some of the cutting-edge research from some of the best clinicians and scientists in the field. It is also the only meeting in the anesthesia world with a program specifically devoted to trainees and early-stage investigators just starting out in their careers. This program allows you to interact with trainees from other institutions and faculty in a relaxed setting and have some of your questions about career development answered by some of the best in the field.

Tell me a little about the research you received the Kosaka Best of Meeting award for. What is the goal of your research? Will your findings/research directly impact patient care?

The goal of my current research is to better understand some of the molecular mechanisms underpinning the cognitive dysfunction that is present in individuals who survive sepsis. Specifically, I am interested in understanding how the neuropathological changes of sepsis and neurodegeneration interact. During my PhD training, I studied the molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease and different pathways that regulate amyloid clearance from the brain. One thing we have learned over the past 20 years in the Alzheimer’s field is that the pathologic disease process of amyloid misfolding is likely present many years prior to the clinical presentation of the disease. It is therefore likely that many patients that present with critical illness such as sepsis already have evidence of Alzheimer’s disease in their brain and the insults of their acute illness could influence the long-term progression of neurodegeneration. To study this possibility, we are using mouse models to determine whether sepsis modulates the long-term progression and severity of Alzheimer’s associated neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation. Specifically, we have found that the amount of amyloid plaque pathology and the extent of cell-mediated inflammation in the brains of mice that model Alzheimer’s disease amyloidosis increases following an episode of bacterial sepsis. These results suggest that a potential mechanism for cognitive decline in sepsis survivors is from worsening of underlying neurodegenerative disease, and more work should be performed in the future to determine whether similar changes are present in patients that have recovered from sepsis after an ICU stay.

What is the value of research awards like the Kosaka Best of Meeting award?

As a newer trainee, I find that any environment that allows you to present your work to both colleagues and leaders of your field is a great learning experience and further develops your skills for giving presentations in the future. The scientific and clinical backgrounds of individuals at IARS is somewhat varied, as you have people who study such diverse areas as basic anesthetic mechanisms, critical care, pain medicine, neuroscience, and clinical outcomes. This therefore requires you to think about the big picture of your research and present your ideas in an approachable and understandable manner that makes them accessible to the field.

What are some of your struggles and pain points that you face on a regular basis in conducting research?

I think one of the biggest struggles I have, along with probably many others in academic medicine, is finding the right balance between successfully managing a research program and remaining strong as a clinician. Early on in your career, I feel it can be challenging to know how much time to devote to your clinical and research development such that you can succeed in both. Luckily, I have had great mentors who excel as both scientists and clinicians and have provided me with a great model for success in the future.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would again really encourage any early-stage trainees to attend the Scholar’s Day program at IARS. It is great to see there is a group of individuals just like you in the anesthesia world who are trying to start their careers and are going through many of the same trials and tribulations you are. The advice you receive from this program is invaluable and has provided me with significant encouragement for my future career.