Alex Keith Website Photo

Spreading Success: Senior Biology Major Earns Pain Medicine Award for Infection Research

Created: December 2, 2021  |  Last Updated: January 10, 2022  |  Category:   |  Tagged: , ,

WASHINGTON, PA (December 2, 2021)—For Alex Keith, a senior biology major at Washington & Jefferson College, success is apparently infectious.

A Merck-scholarship-funded clinical research intern at Pain Diagnostics and Interventional Care (PDIC), Keith spent the summer of 2021 studying the prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus—a bacteria that increases the risk of surgical site infections) in spinal cord stimulation patients. Now, he’s received the President’s Choice Award from the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine (ASRA—the world’s largest pain medicine organization) for his abstract on that work, “Prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus colonization in spinal cord stimulator patients.”

Co-authored by Dr. David Provenzano, the president of PDIC, and Dr. Jason Kilgore, an associate professor of biology at W&J, the abstract revealed that, in a group of 232 patients who underwent 396 implantable pain therapy treatments, 20.2% were positive for methicillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA—a strain of the bacteria receptive to antibiotics) while only 4.3% were positive for methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA—a strain of the bacteria non-receptive to antibiotics).

In the medical field, that can pose a serious problem.

“This is a concern because there are a lot of doctors who pre-operatively screen for MRSA, but there are not as many who screen for MSSA,” Keith explained, noting that MRSA screening alone would have failed to identify 95% of S. aureus colonized patients who were positive for MSSA, leaving many people vulnerable to potentially life-threatening infections.

That’s why Kilgore recommended Keith for the internship after Provenzano, who has selected W&J students to work with him for the past 11 years, contacted him for a reference.

“This work is extremely important and could save a lot of pain, grief…and money for patients whose doctors follow the recommendations from this research,” Kilgore said. “And Alex is the most disciplined student with whom I have ever worked.”

But Keith said it’s Kilgore and the college that have enabled his success.

“He is definitively above and beyond the typical advisor,” Keith said of Kilgore, adding that Kilgore’s biological statistics course proved vital in his research. “I would not have a singular one of the connections that I have right now, had I been at a [different] school.”

Planning to pursue medical school following graduation, he said his experiences with Kilgore, Provenzano and staff, ASRA, and W&J have him well-prepared for the future.

“A lot of students, especially pre-med students, don’t have the opportunity to get their name on a paper or an abstract until they’re much older,” Keith said. “So to have…my research be on something that can be found in PubMed [a database for biomedical literature]…is going to set me apart.”


About Washington & Jefferson College

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