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    Uniformed Services University Scientist Named ‘Researcher of the Year’ for Bleeding Disorders Research

    Uniformed Services University Scientist Named ‘Researcher of the Year’ for Bleeding Disorders Research

    Photo By Petty Officer 3rd Class Brooks Smith | Dr. Kathleen Pratt, a professor and vice chair for Research in the Uniformed Services...... read more read more

    BETHESDA, MD, UNITED STATES

    09.30.2021

    Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brooks Smith 

    Uniformed Services University

    Dr. Kathleen Pratt recently received national recognition for her significant contributions to improving treatment and care for patients with bleeding disorders, earning the National Hemophilia Foundation’s (NHF) 2021 Researcher of the Year award.

    The NHF award honors investigators who have made outstanding contributions to improving the lives of people with bleeding disorders -- like hemophilia, in which the blood does not clot properly -- through treatment and care. Pratt, a professor and vice chair for Research in the Uniformed Services University’s Department of Medicine, received the award during the NHF’s annual conference on Aug. 28.

    Pratt graduated from Cornell University with a Ph.D. in Biophysical Chemistry in 1992. Since then, she has been actively involved in researching bleeding disorders and has made many significant contributions to the field. For starters, as a postdoctoral fellow and staff scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she determined the three-dimensional structure of a fragment of factor VIII (FVIII), an essential blood coagulation protein. This structure revealed how FVIII can bind to activated platelets and accelerate blood clotting.
    Hemophilia A is a bleeding disorder caused by mutations in the gene encoding FVIII. Many patients can successfully achieve a normal, active lifestyle by regular FVIII infusions. Unfortunately, one in four patients develops antibodies that prevent FVIII from doing its job. Pratt and her team have been working to decipher the basis of this immune response and develop new therapeutic interventions. She points out that developing new approaches to avoid or reverse the effects of anti-drug antibodies, that can neutralize the benefits of protein therapeutics, is of significant interest to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

    Since the pandemic started, Pratt and her team have been focusing their research on combating COVID-19 as well.

    “When COVID hit, it turned out that a lot of people who work in blood disorders had a skill set that was relevant to studying what’s going on in the COVID-19 patients,” Pratt says. “My lab right now is spending over half of our time on COVID-relevant projects. For example, we are looking at the roles of coagulation proteins in the clotting disorders that some COVID-19 patients develop. We are also interested in the inflammatory response. It turned out that knowledge and skills developed during years of working with hemophilia are quite relevant to studying dysregulated coagulation in COVID-19.”

    In addition to the military relevance that her work with COVID presents, her research also relates to survival on the battlefield. Because blood supplies are vital to treating severely injured combat casualties, understanding traumatic bleeding, coagulation changes and platelet function is critical.

    Pratt says she is grateful for the collaborative and supportive environment at USU.

    “I feel I found very fertile ground here. For example, with my hemophilia research, and being able to take on COVID-19 work with interdisciplinary teams. I am really happy here,” she says.

    Pratt also credits her mentors, over the years, for making her work as enjoyable as it has been. She names Earl Davie, Professor at the University of Washington, where she earned her undergraduate degree in Mathematical Sciences.

    “He would help us troubleshoot experiments, but what I really remember about Earl was that he was just so supportive,” Pratt says. She had similar high praise for her Ph.D. advisor, Prof. Harold Scheraga of Cornell and her colleague Prof. David Scott at USU.

    And it’s that supportive nature of her mentors that she hopes she is passing down to those who now look up to her as the mentor.
    “One piece of advice I give younger trainees is just read -- read for pleasure,” she says. Read books, read the scientific literature, and practice your writing. “I find that some young investigators haven't yet developed the writing and communication skills that are needed to tell the story of what they are doing, and that is incredibly important. If you don’t write well and can’t explain what you are doing, it will be difficult to publish in high quality journals, difficult for other leaders in the field to know what the heck you are doing, and difficult to get funding.”

    She also encourages others to follow their passion and go with what inspires them.

    As for her recent award, she adds, this was not something she was expecting, but she is very grateful for the recognition of her work. Perhaps equally as gratifying, she says, is being able to work at the interface of the research and the bedside.

    “I have had the opportunity to meet many hemophilia physicians involved in clinical research, as well as their patients, and it has just been heartwarming, motivating, and wonderful,” Pratt says. “This award is the hemophilia community itself recognizing me and saying thank you for our efforts, and that’s more meaningful in some ways than other types of awards that are out there, because I am really trying to do something to help this community. It is unbelievably challenging to have hemophilia if you get this (Factor VIII) immune response. I appreciate that our efforts are acknowledged. It makes me want to work harder on the problem, too.”

    The recent NHF award is not Pratt’s first accolade for her accomplishments throughout her career. She also earned the Dean’s Impact Award at USU in 2019. In 2008, she earned the “Henri Chaigneau” Prize from the French Association of Hemophiliacs, which recognizes research that advances the knowledge about the genetics and diagnosis of hemophilia.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 09.30.2021
    Date Posted: 09.30.2021 08:21
    Story ID: 406390
    Location: BETHESDA, MD, US 

    Web Views: 157
    Downloads: 0

    PUBLIC DOMAIN