Support from the Society of Critical Care Medicine’s (SCCM) 2015 SCCM-Weil Research Grant enabled Faheem Guirgis, MD, to conduct research centered on the role of
dysfunctional high-density lipoprotein in severe sepsis. Dr. Guirgis, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at UF Health Jacksonville, took time out of his busy schedule
to provide this brief write-up detailing his research and its progress.
Sepsis is a bridge between many clinical specialties. As
an emergency physician, I became fascinated with this
disease during residency and studied so I could become
proficient in caring for septic patients. But as I learned
more, I realized that I had more questions than answers.
Not only was clinical care for septic patients challenging
for many reasons, but I found gaps in our ability to recognize
sepsis and prognosticate outcomes.
Recognizing a lack of clinically useful biomarkers, I
embarked on a journey to discover a novel potential in
vivo indicator that would be useful to providers of all
specialties who care for septic patients, namely, dysfunctional
high-density lipoprotein (Dys-HDL). In my
review of the literature I had encountered several studies
demonstrating an association between low HDL levels
and increased mortality in critically ill patients with sepsis.
I had also read that HDL is thought to be protective in
sepsis through antioxidant, antiinflammatory and antithrombotic
properties. But recent cardiovascular studies
had demonstrated that the protective abilities of HDL
were dependent on its functional properties. This raised
several important questions, which formed the basis of
my SCCM-Weil Research Grant. This study was the first to test for the presence of Dys-HDL in patients with sepsis
and to attempt to determine whether Dys-HDL levels
correlated with Sepsis-Related Organ Failure Assessment
(SOFA) scores in early sepsis. My study was designed to
enroll 85 patients. I am pleased to report that we have
completed enrollment as of March 12, 2017. Preliminary
results are quite encouraging as we have demonstrated
that Dys-HDL was present in the majority of our septic
patients and persistent Dys-HDL elevation was associated
with adverse outcomes after sepsis. We have also found
some interesting correlations between Dys-HDL and
proinflammatory cytokines and significant associations
between low HDL levels and mortality, as seen in other
For me, the SCCM-Weil Research Grant was my first
substantial extramural grant. I had previously been
awarded some institutional grants but none of them were
large enough to support this type of prospective, translational
work. As an emergency physician applying to a
critical care society for funding, I really didn’t believe I
would be competitive for this award. But I was wrong.
With SCCM, my translational sepsis research finally had
To say that getting this grant was a springboard to other
opportunities is an understatement. I cannot emphasize
how important this award has been to my overall career
and research progress. In addition to performing the
work set out in the aims of the study, samples taken from
my patients have been used to inform future studies and
gain a better understanding of HDL function in sepsis.
Preliminary data from my study was also used in a grant
application to the National Institutes of Health, for which
I was recently funded both a KL2 and a K23 research
career development award. Because of my SCCM-Weil
Research Grant, I have funding through 2020 to continue
my sepsis research.
I am excited about what the future may hold for this
line of work and for my own future as a translational
sepsis researcher. I would like to thank SCCM for the
amazing opportunity of being awarded the SCCM-Weil
Grant, which has opened up a world of opportunities and
will hopefully lead to new discoveries that will improve
care for patients with sepsis.