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A passion for patients inspires orthopedic surgeon to conduct innovative research

On a daily basis, WVU Medicine orthopedic surgeon, Matthew Dietz, M.D., sees patients who suffer from the devastating effects of prosthetic joint infections. Many have undergone traditional courses of treatment, including surgical removal of infected tissue and long courses of intravenous antibiotics. But even with aggressive treatment, many of these infected prosthetic joints ultimately fail, negatively impacting patients’ quality of life.

Dietz wanted to explore ideas to ultimately find more effective treatments for infected prosthetic joints. 

An orthopedic surgeon and associate professor who has been with the West Virginia University School of Medicine for more than five years, Dietz’s clinical practice focuses on adult reconstruction in orthopedics. His passion for clinical care and fervor for solving problems drove Dietz to pursue research more intensely and to become involved with the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (WVCTSI).

One of WVCTSI’s key priorities is the continued support and development of clinician scientists across the state. Dietz is a prime example of an investigator who has utilized the variety of services and resources that WVCTSI offers to support and foster the growth of the next generation of researchers – ultimately bringing more innovative and impactful science to the people of West Virginia.

“What really drives me is a desire to help my patients that I’ve seen suffer some of the most devastating complications with very limited solutions available to them,” Dietz said. “It’s this frustration with the current but limited options that we are able to offer these patients and their families that pushes me to advance our knowledge around infection so we can bring meaningful improvements to their treatment.”

In order to continue pursuing these research goals, Dietz became heavily involved with WVCTSI after an encounter at a meet and greet event for new faculty. Since making the first contact, Dietz has been awarded multiple pilot grants, participated in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study section to better understand the NIH review process, and has become a WVCTSI Research Scholar.

“I really am a prime example of taking full advantage of all the opportunities, expertise and guidance offered by WVCTSI. I like to think I’ve done a little bit of it all,” Dietz laughed.

In addition to these interactions, Dietz also participates in the grant writing groups offered by Joan Lakoski, Ph.D., WVCTSI director of proposal development. Through these groups, Dietz met with Lakoski bi-weekly to develop a K award application focused on the use of spatial relationships and inflammatory markers in order to better determine how to surgically remove infected joint tissue.

“This project really came about because when we perform these surgeries to try and remove infected materials or tissue, we currently have no quantifiable method of determining the adequacy of our debridement,” Dietz said. “Currently debridement mainly relies on the surgeon’s experience and discretion with no quantitative feedback.”

The collaborative writing sessions with Dr. Lakoski paid off as Dietz received a K08 award from the National Institutes of Health in September 2018. This award has allowed him to continue his work studying the fluorescence and biomarkers in prosthetic joint infections. In addition to this grant, Dietz credits the support of his department chair Sanford Emery, M.D., M.B.A., the WVU School of Medicine, and the leadership and guidance provided by WVCTSI that has allowed him to pursue his goals as a clinician scientist. 

“I can’t speak enough about how great WVCTSI has been for my career as a clinician scientist,” Dietz said. “Any projects you can dream up or whatever roadblocks you might encounter -- they can help you with. You just need to get involved with the great staff and you will instantly see your research benefit.”

WVCTSI Background

WVCTSI is funded by an IDeA Clinical and Translational grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (U54GM104942) to support the mission of building clinical and translational research infrastructure and capacity to impact health disparities in West Virginia.