Graduate Spotlight

Jason Sperry, MD, MPH, is a graduate of the Institute for Clinical Research Education (ICRE)'s Clinical and Translational Science (CTS) Scholars Program (KL2), in which he was a scholar from 2008 to 2010. Having entered the program a year after coming to the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Sperry was given the opportunity to conduct his first prospective observational research study, a shift from the primarily retrospective work he had done before that. The KL2 "was the foundation of a lot of my grant writing," he said, adding that the skills he learned in it prepared him to write and submit a K23 that was funded immediately after he completed the program, as well as to plan and conduct clinical trials, several of which he now is overseeing. Since graduating from the program, Dr. Sperry has gone on to make substantial achievements in the University in terms of research, education, administrative leadership, and clinical service. Of particular note is a recently-launched multimillion-dollar investigator network funded by the Department of Defense, which could have significant impact on trauma care for both military personnel and civilians.

Dr. Sperry graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in Chemistry from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he subsequently attended medical school. During his second rotation in a general surgery residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, he was exposed to trauma surgery, an experience that "left a twinkle in my eye," as he puts it. In his fourth year of residency, with some time to reflect on what had impacted him the most from his training, he recalled the fast-paced, high-intensity atmosphere of trauma surgery, and realized that this think-quickly-on-your-feet environment was just what he was looking for. So after completing the residency and then a research fellowship at Johns Hopkins, he pursued a fellowship in Trauma/Surgical Critical Care at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he also matriculated in its Master of Public Health program. After completing both these programs in 2007, he was recruited to the University of Pittsburgh, and was hired as an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Surgery and Critical Care Medicine.

Ten years later and now a Professor of Surgery, Critical Care Medicine, and Clinical and Translational Science at Pitt, Dr. Sperry carries on a robust research program, both independently and in collaboration with several other investigators. He has served as the Acute Care Surgery fellowship director since 2013, is very active in teaching medical students, residents, and fellows in a variety of settings, and is a highly regarded research mentor. Dr. Sperry is also an attending surgeon at UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Mercy, performing over 400 procedures and operations annually; in addition he provides patient care related to all aspects of trauma and acute care surgery, general surgery, and critical care medicine in multiple ICUs at UPMC Presbyterian. When asked about what he finds most gratifying about this work, Dr. Sperry referenced the fact that he has the potential to help people who are in dire circumstances, many of them having the worst day of their life.

In terms of research, Dr. Sperry has made significant achievements in a number of areas; his early work focusing on sex-based outcome differences following traumatic injury has developed into an ever-growing expertise in traumatic injury resuscitation and prehospital interventions. His accomplishments have marked him as a national and international expert in both clinical outcomes post-injury and prehospital clinical trials. Having got his first (co-)authorship credit for a manuscript written while he was in medical school pursuing a basic science project in the Department of Pathology, by the time he completed his research fellowship he had had papers published in the Journal of Immunology, Circulation Research, and the Journal of Vascular Surgery. Since then he has published nearly 150 peer-reviewed manuscripts.

Dr. Sperry has an impressive track record of consistent research support. After completing the KL2, he was funded by a K23 from 2010 to 2015, with a “Clowes” American College of Surgeons/American Association for the Surgery for Trauma award that provided additional support. Since then, Dr. Sperry has received funding for two large, multicenter randomized trials, both from the Department of the Army, studying interventions during prehospital air medical transport. He is also a valued co-investigator, evidenced by his being named on the following significant awards: the NHLBI-supported Trans-agency Consortium for Trauma-Induced Coagulopathy (PI: Esmon/Mann); an NHLBI-supported R01 (PI: Zuckerbraun); and the completed Inflammation and the Host Response to Injury Large Scale Collaborative Program or Trauma “Gluegrant,” for which he was the Pittsburgh site investigator.

Most recently, Dr. Sperry was named the PI for a new multimillion-dollar Department of Defense-funded trauma research network called Linking Investigations in Trauma and Emergency Services (LITES) Network, which could receive up to $90 million in funding over the next ten years. Involving at least twelve participating trauma centers, LITES is conducting prospective, multicenter, injury care and outcomes research of relevance to the Department of Defense (DoD) and to the general public. LITES is currently concluding its first task order, which was to conduct an observational cohort study and obtain a large amount of granular data from a large patient population in the prehospital, trauma, and ICU settings, and use electronic health record data extraction to identify novel patterns. Over the next decade, multiple task orders will occur simultaneously, facilitated by Pitt’s state-of-the art infrastructure and by the Network’s more-than-capable PI.

Dr. Sperry cites his participation in the KL2 program as providing the protected time and resources to continue investigations, begun during his MPH studies, into characterizing the mechanisms responsible for sex-based outcome differences (male versus female) following injury. The progress made through the KL2 (and subsequent K23) brought about a project and accompanying publication that revealed an exaggerated sex-specific protection in the Asian population and in a Pennsylvania injured population. He is attempting to reproduce these findings internationally, collaborating with Taipei Medical University and the Sixth Hospital in Shanghai, China, and analyzing their large trauma registry to see if these results can be reproduced in injured Asian populations.

Although he was quick to downplay the success he has had in his career, Dr. Sperry cited the superb environment and resources that were available to him as being of utmost significance. For our part, we at the ICRE have followed and will continue to track Dr. Sperry’s accomplishments with great interest and pride.

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