Driven to bring them back alive and well
By Paul Mayne
February 07, 2013
Known worldwide for his research around critical care medicine, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor Dr. Raymond Kao has been named the Group Captain G. Edward Hall Chair in Military Critical Care Research at Lawson Health Research Institute, the research arm of London Health Sciences Centre. The chair, a Canadian first, is named after Western’s former Dean of Medicine and longest-serving president.
Kao, a Navy captain in the Canadian Forces (CF), is widely recognized for his research on erythropoietin, a hormone produced by the kidneys that stimulates the production of red blood cells and, in turn, haemoglobin. Kao found erythropoietin, when combined with saline, can improve blood flow and tissue oxygen usage after an injury. His findings have been used to stabilize wounded soldiers in the battlefield.
“What drives me is the love for the military and the emotional attachment of seeing our soldiers wounded,” said Kao, director of CF Shock and Resuscitation Research Group at Lawson. “To me, that is heart wrenching. Even speaking about it now, I get kind of choked up because of what I’ve seen. These young men deserve everything we can do to bring them back alive, safe and in a state where they can return to their families and live as normal of a life they can.”
Kao was deployed three times to Afghanistan (2006-09) as director of the CF Trauma Intensive Care Unit. He returned in 2011, where he was the internal medicine mentor to the physicians of 209th Afghan Army Medical Corp.
“You always want to find ways to improve the resuscitative process, so my research team looked at one aspect of that in order to improve soldiers’ survival rates and decrease complications if they are wounded in battle,” Kao said. “An evacuation takes time, usually 45-60 minutes to get people out by helicopter or vehicles. Erythropoietin can be given easily in the field, through a syringe, and helps preserve tissues while injured personnel await transfer to definitive care.”
Kao said accepting a chair named after Hall is humbling, adding if he can only strive to achieve a fraction and what Hall did in his career, he’d be satisfied.
Hall’s research in the development of oxygen equipment and protective clothing for pilots made such a huge contribution to the Canadian and Allied war effort, he was one of very few non-aircrew officers to be awarded the Air Force Cross. He was also made an Officer of the Legion of Merit by the U.S. government and was elected to the Royal Society of Canada.
Impressed by his military medical research, Western recruited Hall as its Dean of Medicine in 1945. Two years later, he became president, a position he held for 20 years.
“Research is not an individual endeavour; it is a collaboration,” Kao said. “They (fellow researchers) are the people who motivate me and guide me. I am not the only one. They are the ones who brought me to this stage, so I should not take all the credit; they deserve it more than I do. The importance of collaboration is no one can be a lone island in this environment of fiscal restraint. We can put this all together as one unified force to do the appropriate research.”
More recently, Kao has been studying the use of C-peptide in shock and resuscitation. C-peptide is an insulin-connecting protein, which has protective effects on various stressed organs.
“Early results have been promising,” he said, “We have found that it reduces both lung and gut injuries after hemorrhagic shock and fluid resuscitation.”
Kao said this new chair, presented by CF Brigadier-General Jean-Robert Bernier, allows him to be more proactive and prepared for the whenever and wherever the next conflict begins.
“It (chair) makes me much more enthusiastic to do as much as I can for the research and clinical work on behalf of the men and women who will serve in the armed forces,” he said. “We cannot be slacking off. When the time comes, we have to be ready – not only military wise, but in support of our soldiers. Because what I have seen in Kandahar, soldiers deserve the best we can give them and that’s really the bottom line for me.”
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