Bench AND bedside: winning combination for Sherry Chou

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For 50 years, most researchers thought that understanding vasospasm was the key to treating brain injury. What Chou discovered, however, did not correspond to this. (Photo courtesy of Sherry Chou)

For 50 years, most researchers thought that understanding vasospasm was the key to treating brain injury. What Chou discovered, however, did not correspond to this. (Photo courtesy of Sherry Chou)

By Medicine Focus

For fifty years, it was mistakenly thought that the secret to treating acute brain injury lay in understanding vasopasm, narrowing of the arteries.

That was until Sherry H-Y. Chou, BSc, MDCM’01, came along.

The trailblazer in the emerging field of neurointensive care and research is the recipient of the Young Alumni Award for the 2016 Medicine Alumni Global Awards.

With over 50 publications to her name, and appointments in the departments of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology and Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Chou, who also trained at Harvard Medical School, seeks to reconceptualize the processes in acute brain injury.

In her clinical practice, she sees patients with traumatic injuries to their nervous systems. In the lab, she uses molecular biomarkers to examine mechanism and outcomes in acute brain injury, such as subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH).

As part of her study of SAH, Chou established a biobank of samples taken over the duration of patients’ hospitalizations, and developed an inventory system to reflect the complex collection. These samples allow Chou to collaborate with other scientists to test new techniques and animal models of chemical mechanisms in acute brain injury.

Through her biomarker research, Chou found positive signals related to inflammation that would occur in the first three days and disappear afterwards, and termed it Early Brain Injury (EBI). “The signal doesn’t support vasospasm—it’s not the right time frame, it’s not the right chemicals.”

Through her extended communication with patients, Chou’s conceptions of the long-term outcomes for SAH have changed entirely. “I get the opportunity to talk to patients and families two or three years out, and I learn a lot as a physician. Many intensive care physicians do not see these patients or talk to them beyond the initial hospital stay, let alone beyond a few months. I was very surprised to learn that some of the patients that I thought would never get out of a wheelchair are now walking.”

Chou hopes to begin a clinical trial to see if induced hypothermia will change the biomarker signals in EBI. As she so aptly puts it, “If the territory is uncharted, you have to figure out what the questions are.”

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