Profile in Innovation - Jennifer Wilson, MD

“You have the chance to see the whole universe in the emergency department.”

- Jennifer Wilson, MD

Jennifer Wilson, MD, a clinical assistant professor with Stanford Department of Emergency Medicine, is exploring innovative methods for prevention and early treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and sepsis.

Proving that there are many paths to medical discovery, Wilson majored in American Studies and theater as an undergraduate. After college, she briefly considered a career as an actor, before realizing she wanted to pursue a different dream: becoming a physician. She decided to leave the world of headshots and auditions behind, completing her post-baccalaureate studies before being accepted to medical school. “I have never once regretted that decision,” she says.

Wilson ultimately chose to pursue emergency medicine training and subspecialty certification in critical care. During her critical care fellowship, she had the opportunity to work with a research team that studied lung injury, ultimately taking on a key role in a phase 1 clinical trial of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for ARDS.

The Reseach

ARDS is a syndrome that causes fluid to leak into the lungs, compromising breathing in critically ill patients. It occurs in up to 10% of patients admitted to the ICU, and despite advances in mechanical ventilation and supportive care, increases mortality by up to 30% in these patients. MSCs are multi-potent cells that secrete multiple paracrine factors, and may offer anti-inflammatory benefits. Wilson’s work has helped establish the safety of administering MSCs to patients with moderate-to-severe ARDS, and uncover the biology that may explain their efficacy in pre-clinical models of ARDS.

Wilson is also partnering with fellow Stanford emergency medicine physician James Quinn, MD to enroll patients in several ongoing clinical trials of early therapy in sepsis. Stanford is one of several sites that will test the use of vitamin C, thiamine and steroids to address sepsis shock.

Why Emergency Medicine?

Wilson, who attends in both the Stanford Emergency Department and the Medical ICU, was drawn to emergency medicine as a specialty because of the role of the emergency department as safety net for people who might not otherwise have access to healthcare, and by her desire to be able to treat “anyone, anytime, anywhere.”

“There is a lot of uncertainty and risk in the clinical side of emergency medicine,” Wilson notes. “Research helps contribute to my emotional balance. It’s a different kind of work, using my expertise as physician, but also allowing different parts of my brain to engage.”

Her Longterm Vision

Her ultimate innovative vision reflects this interest. “My number one dream would be more equitable distribution of healthcare resources in the community,” she explains. “That has a lot has to do with political will and our advocacy for patients as physicians, but there is also a big role for science. Using epidemiological interpretation of big data, we can become better at early identification of disease, and allocate resources according to where they will do the most benefit, more efficiently and humanely.”

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