Newswise — EL PASO, Texas — a researcher at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Center of Emphasis in Infectious Diseases was recently awarded a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to study the connection between the quality of sleep patients get in the hospital and sepsis.

Assistant Professor Wendy Walker, Ph.D., received the $489,160 grant for her study, “Goodnight Mouse: Sleep and Sepsis,” a preclinical study using mouse models.

Dr. Walker will determine if sleep interruption worsens sepsis, a life-threatening medical emergency. The knowledge gained may help lead to interventions to improve hospitalized patients’ sleep quality and quantity or treatments to reverse the effects of poor sleep.

“We all know it’s so important to get a good night’s sleep for our health, but many of us don’t get enough sleep,” Dr. Walker said. “That’s especially true for patients in the hospital because their sleep is constantly disrupted. This study will allow us to replicate what happens when a patient’s sleep is disrupted and how that disruption is connected to sepsis.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. Sepsis can occur when an existing infection triggers an inflammatory chain reaction throughout the body. At least 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis, and nearly 270,000 Americans die of it, making it the 10th leading cause of death nationwide. One in three patients who die in a hospital have sepsis, making it the leading cause of death in hospitals. Sepsis also contributes to high hospital costs.

“Several factors change immune response during the day, and each of those changes impact many aspects of the patient’s biology,” said Dr. Walker, who previously studied sepsis and circadian rhythms, or the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, at Yale University and then TTUHSC El Paso.

The CDC states insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per 24-hour period for the best health and well-being.

The three-year grant will provide training opportunities for master’s-level students enrolled in TTUHSC El Paso’s Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The school enrolls a high percentage of underrepresented Hispanic and other minority students, many of whom are first-generation college students. The research project will help these students gain critical research experience, with the opportunity to present research at national conferences.

“I’m very passionate about mentoring, and because we have such a fantastic graduate school, this will allow us to offer opportunities these students might not otherwise have,” Dr. Walker said. “That doesn’t just affect them, but our community as well. As they become biomedical researchers or doctors with this solid research behind them, many will stay, addressing the critical health care shortages in our region.”

Dr. Walker completed her B.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She completed postdoctoral training at Imperial College London and Yale University and joined the Center of Emphasis in Infectious Diseases at TTUHSC El Paso as an assistant professor in January 2014.


About TTUHSC El Paso

TTUHSC El Paso serves 108 counties in West Texas that have been historically underserved. It is designated as a Title V Hispanic-Serving Institution, preparing the next generation of health care professionals and researchers, 48% of whom identify as Hispanic and are often first-generation college students.

Research conducted in TTUHSC El Paso’s four Centers of Emphasis focuses on conditions directly affecting Hispanic populations, including diabetes, cancer, infectious diseases and neurological disorders. University researchers also study health disparities, helping to meet health care challenges in the Borderplex.