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USU Faculty Member Receives National Award for Sleep Research


Navy Capt. (Dr.) J. Kent Werner simulates how they may test for sub-concussive brain injury. (Courtesy photo)

By Sharon Holland

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) presented its 2020 Trainee Investigator Award to Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) J. Kent Werner, assistant professor in USU’s Department of Neurology, on June 15 during its annual membership meeting.

Navy Capt. (Dr.) Kent Werner displays the 2020 Trainee Investigator Award presented to him by the American Association of Sleep Medicine.  (Courtesy photo)
Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) J. Kent Werner displays the 2020
Trainee Investigator Award presented to him by
the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
(Courtesy photo)
Students, postdoctoral fellows and residents who are AASM members are eligible for the award based on presentation of an abstract at the SLEEP annual meeting, a joint meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.  Abstracts are reviewed by the AASM education committee and the most exceptional abstracts with the highest scores are selected for recognition; one overall winner and two honorable mention recipients are chosen.

Werner, who recently completed his sleep fellowship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, was selected for the Trainee Investigator Award based on his abstract, “Poor Sleep Quality Predicts Serum Markers of Neurodegeneration and Cognitive Deficits in Warriors with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury."  His abstract was among 85 submitted and was selected after three rounds of blind reviews.

“I was surprised and honored to be chosen for this award. It would not have been possible without the servicemembers who enrolled in the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium led, in part, by Professor Kimbra Kenney in the USU Department of Neurology. I also want to recognize Dr. Jessica Gill and her lab at the National Institute of Nursing Research, who is appointed at the USU Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, for contributing the protein measurements. Lastly, I want to thank my other coauthors: Drs. Pashtun Shahim, Chen Lai, and Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, as well as USU statistician Sorana Raiciulescu and USU medical student, 2nd Lt. Josephine Pucci.”

USU associate professor of Neurology, Navy Capt. (Dr.) J. Kent Werner recruits for USU’s Invicta study which looks at possible sub-concussive brain injury that may result from repetitive blast overpressure resulting from the firing heavy weapons.  (Courtesy photo)
USU associate professor of Neurology,
Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) J. Kent Werner recruits for
USU's Invicta study which looks at possible
sub-concussive brain injuries that may result
from repetitive blast overpressure from
firing heavy weapons. (Courtesy photo)
Werner graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2001 and served as a Surface Warfare Officer before entering the MD/PhD program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2003 as a member of the Navy Medical Corps. He completed his medical degree and a doctorate in neuroscience and molecular biology in 2012, followed by an internal medicine internship and a neurology residency, also at Johns Hopkins. In 2017, he served as Neurology department chief at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. Two years later, he completed a sleep medicine fellowship at Walter Reed and was assigned to USU’s Neurology department.  Werner’s research focuses on the interaction of traumatic brain injury and sleep physiology with neurodegenerative disease.

“The link between traumatic brain injury and dementia, or neurodegeneration, was established over the last two decades, but investigators did not account for the potential contribution from sleep dysfunction – a treatable, known risk factor for dementia. Our study revealed that poor sleep quality correlated with 1) elevated levels of “neurofilament light” – a marker of dying neurons; and 2) poorer performance in cognitive testing. This raises a new question: Does poor sleep link traumatic brain injury to neurodegeneration? If so, it may mean that treating sleep disorders after traumatic brain injury could reduce the risk of dementia,” said Werner.

“It’s an exciting story that could bring hope for new therapies if it proves to be true.”