The Carnegie Science Center established the Carnegie Science Awards program in 1997 to recognize and promote outstanding science and technology achievements in western Pennsylvania. The Carnegie Science Awards have honored the accomplishments of more than 500 individuals and organizations whose contributions in the fields of science, technology, and education have impacted our region’s industrial, academic, and environmental vitality.
The 21st Annual Carnegie Science Awards celebration will be held on May 12, 2017, at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland during which time McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members John Kellum, MD, and Kathryn Whitehead, PhD, will be honored for their tremendous work and its impact on the vitality in the region.
Dr. John Kellum is the recipient of the Life Sciences Award which recognizes and honors scientific advances in new and innovative biomedical and life sciences endeavors.
Dr. Kellum is physician-scientist who is internationally recognized for his pioneering advances in science and translation of scientific discoveries to clinical products and procedures. He is Vice Chair for Research, and Director of the Center for Critical Care Nephrology, Department of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Kellum has led a world-wide effort to define acute kidney injury (AKI) and establish diagnostics and therapeutics for this condition that kills more than 3 million people annually. Among his many accomplishments include development of the first international consensus definitions for AKI known as the RIFLE criteria, serving as co-chair for the Kidney Disease Improving Global Outcomes (KDIGO) AKI workgroup that produced the first comprehensive clinical practice guideline for AKI, leading the clinical studies that culminated in the first FDA-approved biomarker for AKI (Nephrocheck), and pioneering novel treatments for AKI including immune modulation, mitochondrial resuscitation, and remote ischemic preconditioning.
Dr. Kellum is a prolific and highly cited author (over 25,000 citations and an h-index of 72). As noted above, he has a superb record of translating advancements in science into practical activities and tools. As an example, he was the lead investigator of a now FDA-approved lab test that will be used to help determine if critically ill hospitalized patients are at risk of developing moderate to severe AKI in the 12 hours following the administration of the test. Early knowledge that a patient is likely to develop AKI may prompt closer patient monitoring and help prevent permanent kidney damage or death. This is significant as many physicians are aware of the need to assess patient risk for AKI, however until this development there has not been a reliable method of performing this risk assessment.
Dr. Kellum’s work has brought great attention to the need for, and the benefits of, the state-of-the-art clinical care that is available in the region. He collaborates with clinicians in other departments at UPMC in the assessment and care of critically ill patients suffering with potentially debilitating kidney disease.
Dr. Kellum has always performed his research with a particular focus on translating therapies to patients, and as such he has made significant efforts to reach out to the community through programming to inform patients and their loved ones of the research being done at the University of Pittsburgh that may one day lead to improved treatments. He and his team recently developed an “app” for smart phones and pads that allows patients who have sustained AKI to keep track of their kidney function and medications that might harm them. The National Kidney Foundation is working with Dr. Kellum to promote the app.
Finally, Dr. Kellum works with high school and university students from the region to train and inspire the next generation of scientists.
Dr. Kellum is highly sought after for his expertise in a number of domains. As noted above, he routinely collaborates with peers across the US and in other countries in the development and assessment of innovative therapies. Dr. Kellum is a past president of the Acute Disease Quality Initiative (www.adqi.org), an international, interdisciplinary group that publishes research and practice recommendations in critical care nephrology. He has led multiple national and international studies and continues to mentor research teams in Belgium, Germany, Brazil, and China. He holds an Adjunct Professorship at Shandong University in Jinan, China.
While the listed accomplishments are applicable to AKI, they have broad-based interests and applicability. Dr. Kellum’s work in the biomarker field began as Co-PI of GenIMS (Genetic and Inflammatory Markers of Sepsis R01GM61992) the first large epidemiologic study of sepsis secondary to community-acquired pneumonia that characterized the inflammatory mediatory profiles and their relationship to outcomes. As PI of Biomarkers of Recovery for the Kidney (BioMaRK), he led a team of investigators who evaluated numerous markers for recovery after severe AKI. Finally, he led a discovery and validation effort for acute kidney injury biomarkers that culminated in the first diagnostic to receive FDA approval. Perhaps more importantly though, the biomarkers discovered appear to modulate cell-cycle progression in renal tubular epithelial cells and represent exciting new targets for therapy including remote ischemic preconditioning.
Dr. Kellum is a pioneer in the treatment of sepsis. His work in AKI, sepsis, and blood purification has been intertwined. He has provided much of preclinical data evaluating sorbents as blood purification modalities in sepsis. This work has opened numerous new avenues to approach the problem of sepsis by removal of damage and pathogen-associated molecular patterns to reprogramming the immune response by manipulating chemokine gradients. He has studied the long-term effects of sepsis not only on the kidney but on the inflammatory response and on coagulation. These studies have led directly to his current work on late effects of sepsis on risk for new infection and cardiovascular events.
Dr. Kellum has seven issued U.S. patents, nine pending patent applications, and three additional invention disclosures.
Dr. Kathryn Whitehead is the recipient of the Emerging Female Scientist Award which recognizes a female leader whose cutting-edge work inspires change in math, science, or technology. The awardee is generally at an independent stage of her career whose emerging impact is reflected in an upward career trajectory.
Dr. Whitehead, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), has revolutionized the field of drug delivery with her approach of using high-throughput chemistry methods to generate powerful delivery vehicles that treat illness. The genetic medicines (called siRNA and mRNA) on which Dr. Whitehead focuses have tremendous therapeutic potential and could be used to treat many types of cancer, hereditary disorders, and viral infections. Unfortunately, this medicine has not yet been FDA-approved for patients because it does not naturally enter diseased cells inside of the body. During her career, she has tackled this exceptionally difficult problem by synthesizing and testing 5,000 distinct nanoparticles to identify specialized chemistry that takes the medicine to the right places without causing toxicity. The products of her efforts include several custom nanoparticles that her lab is using to tackle formidable diseases, including lymphoma, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic wounds.
Synthesizing and testing over 5,000 lipid compounds for their ability to deliver genetic medicine is an unconventional method to scientific discovery. Indeed, high-throughput screening has not been a well-accepted approach to scientific discovery, and it is frequently spurned by reviewers of grant proposals and manuscripts. Dr. Whitehead has convincingly proven the value of high throughput screening by both 1) using it to discover incredible delivery materials and 2) learning from the results. That second element is equally impressive: because of what she learned about delivery chemistry by studying thousands of nanoparticles, Dr. Whitehead can actually predict whether or not a nanoparticle will work in a living animal based on its structure alone. The response to her work has been undeniable: Researchers in her field are now adopting high throughput strategies in record numbers, and her papers describing high throughput techniques have been cited hundreds of times. A portion of her groundbreaking work on the development of lipid nanoparticles that deliver genetic medicine to animals was published in Nature Communications in July 2014.
Dr. Whitehead has published more than 25 papers in journals that include the prestigious Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, Nature Communications, Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS), Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), ACS Nano, and Acta Biomaterialia. Nine of her papers have been published since 2014 based on her independent research at CMU. Her papers have been cited more than 3,000 times. Specific contributions detailed in these papers include the engineering of drug delivery particles that treat liver disease, the discovery of genes that, when turned “off”, facilitate the killing of lymphoma cells, the fabrication of microfluidic devices that rapidly generate lipid nanoparticles, and the discovery of piperazine-derived permeation enhancers that safely and effectively increase the delivery of orally administered drugs.
One important measure of scientific impact on the world is to look at the licensing of patents surrounding platform technologies. Dr. Whitehead’s nanoparticle discoveries have resulted in at least five patents and patent applications that have been licensed and sublicensed by over 10 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for both reagent and therapeutic use. The RNA delivery method that she developed is so effective that it is being sold commercially for drug delivery in cell culture and, on the therapeutic end, is being considered for human clinical trials.
The company Preceres, which develops sustainable biological products, was founded in 2014 and is based on the delivery systems that Dr. Whitehead helped to develop. Furthermore, the company Entrega was founded in 2011 as a direct result of her work in the area of oral protein delivery. The company uses Dr. Whitehead’s core intestinal delivery technology to orally deliver drugs that are typically available only by injection (e.g. insulin).
Dr. Whitehead’s unconventional but effective approach to delivery materials discovery has been recognized by various governmental agencies, media outlets, and independent organizations. Initially, she received a Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Postdoctoral Fellowship Award from the NIH in 2010 to develop her high-throughput delivery approaches. After she began applying her discoveries at Carnegie Mellon, she was named as one of the MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 in 2014 and, even more impressively, as one of the Brilliant 10 by Popular Science in 2015. More recently, Dr. Whitehead’s high-throughput approaches have garnered her the Young Innovator Award from Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering as well as the highly competitive DARPA Young Faculty Award from the U.S. Department of Defense (both in 2016).
Dr. Whitehead and her research lab have had notable impact on the people of Western Pennsylvania in several ways. First, she and her students are deeply committed to facilitating the early exposure of K-12 students to science – an opportunity that Dr. Whitehead and many of her lab members did not have as children. As such, she and her graduate students are actively involved in outreach activities for Pittsburgh grade school and high school students through multiple mechanisms. These include two CMU-facilitated programs, including DNAZone, the outreach program of the Center for Nucleic Acids Science and Technology at CMU, as well as through CMU’s Gelfand Center for Service Learning and Outreach. For example, the Whitehead Lab has created a hands-on “kit” that teaches students about drug delivery at a basic level. Whitehead Lab members staff local events that promote science to young people, including events at the Carnegie Science Center (e.g. Science Fair and the Girls Rock Science Weekend), the University of Pittsburgh’s Sciencepalooza, and the Summer Engineering Experience for Girls (8th-9th graders). Through these activities, Dr. Whitehead and her lab have touched the lives of hundreds of K-12 students in the Pittsburgh region. The investment made by the Whitehead Lab in engaging the scientists of tomorrow is expected to positively impact Western Pennsylvania by fostering an educated, scientifically-literate workforce that will keep Pittsburgh in the technology spotlight for decades to come.
Second, Dr. Whitehead has had a profoundly positive impact on the college-level students of Pittsburgh through her teaching and advising activities at Carnegie Mellon. She is one of the most accomplished young professors in regards to teaching within the College of Engineering at CMU, as is evidenced, in part, by her excellent teaching evaluations. Her course and teaching scores fall at 4.6-4.8 on a 5.0 point scale, with 4.0 being the college and department averages. She was also the recipient of the Kun Li Excellence in Education Award in 2015, the first year that she was eligible. CMU students have consistently praised Dr. Whitehead’s teaching skills, and it is clear that the positive experience she creates for these students will be remembered long after they leave her classroom.
Finally, the attention that has surrounded Dr. Whitehead in the wake of her various awards, especially her inclusion as one of Popular Science’s Brilliant 10 in 2015, has put Pittsburgh in the spotlight on a national level. This is the type of recognition that is helping to establish Pittsburgh as one of the up-and-coming biomedical technology hubs within the United States. Dr. Whitehead’s accomplishments also foster a sense of pride from the residents of Western Pennsylvania, further improving the region’s impression of its local talent.
Dr. Whitehead’s research and extracurricular activities have significantly impacted scientists, patients, and industry at the national and international levels. One measure of scientific impact is the publication citation record – Dr. Whitehead’s 25+ publications have been cited over 3,000 times. This impressive ratio of citations to publications suggests that Dr. Whitehead’s scientific contributions are important and timely, and that they affect the thinking and research of a large number of other scientists.
Dr. Whitehead is also a major proponent of making science more accessible to broad audiences. She currently serves as an Associate Scientific Advisor for the high-profile biomedical journal, Science Translational Medicine. Once every 5-6 weeks, Dr. Whitehead selects a scientific article from the literature and summarizes it for publication in a form that is accessible to general scientists. Furthermore, Dr. Whitehead authors a blog that details her approach to the scientific method, her science, and her job as a professor in academics. As a female graduate student without many female academic role models, she felt her perspective on life in science as a professor was an opaque one. One of the goals of her blogging is to provide a candid window into the struggles and joys of being a young female engineering professor. Over the years, she has received abundant unsolicited, positive feedback regarding her writing, its subject matter, and its influence on other young professors and aspiring professors (e.g. grad students and postdocs). It is clear that Dr. Whitehead’s willingness to share her experiences encourages young women in particular, allowing them to imagine what life in academics is like as a woman while understanding that it is possible (and even normal) to be successful despite professional and personal setbacks.
Dr. Whitehead’s research program has touched many individuals through its ultimate goal, which is to help patients and their families by decreasing suffering brought on by illness and elongating human life. In the field of biomedicine, it can take decades to achieve this goal, since significant laboratory discovery and testing must take place before moving treatments into clinical trials and eventually obtaining FDA approval for new medicines. Dr. Whitehead is well on her way to achieving this goal, with several of her standout technologies positioned at different stages of development. Her lipid nanoparticle delivery systems have advanced through animal testing and are currently being considered by a biopharmaceutical company for a clinical trial. Furthermore, the intestinal patch oral protein delivery system that she developed is being translated for human use by the company Entrega.
Finally, Dr. Whitehead’s technologies have had an economic impact through the creation of jobs at the start-up companies Preceres and Entrega. Through the licensing of patents, other biotech companies (including Alnylam, Shire, and Stemgent) have expanded their technology base and either directly or indirectly profited from Dr. Whitehead’s research.
Congratulations, Drs. Kellum and Whitehead!
Illustration: Carnegie Science Center and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.