The University Record, June 3, 2002

Bartlett first U-M surgeon to receive ASA medallion

By Mary Beth Reilly
Health System Public Relations

The American Surgical Association (ASA) has awarded its Medallion for Scientific Achievement to Robert Bartlett, professor of general surgery and chief, Division of Critical Care.

The award has been given only 16 times in the last 120 years and represents the highest honor in surgery in America. This is the first time the ASA has given this award to a surgeon from U-M.

Bartlett was recognized for his contributions in the care of the critically ill patient, and specifically for developing Continuous Hemofiltration for the treatment of kidney failure, and Extracorporeal Life Support, commonly known as Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation or ECMO. These techniques use artificial organs (heart, lung and kidney) to sustain the life of critically ill patients while their own injured organs can recover. The techniques developed at the U-M Medical School are now used in intensive care units worldwide, saving the lives of thousands of patients each year.

“Hundreds of people at the U-M deserve credit for this award,” Bartlett says. “The U-M provides a unique environment which supports the laboratory and clinical research—and the clinical practice—which makes this type of scientific progress possible.”

Bartlett’s research on artificial organs in intensive care has been supported by the National Institutes of Health since 1972. The progression from bench laboratory studies to successful clinical practice is now called ‘translational research.’ In 1992, the NIH cited the development of ECMO as a prototypic example of how high-tech medicine should be brought from concept to worldwide practice.

ECMO has been used most extensively for newborn infants with respiratory failure. Every major childrens’ hospital has an ECMO program. In the last decade, ECMO has been successfully extended to older children and adults with respiratory and cardiac failure. Currently the U-M Extracorporeal Life Support team is conducting trials of an artificial liver and a new type of artificial kidney.

Although the development of ECMO and hemofiltration have been successful in saving the lives of critically ill patients, the major scientific achievement is the improved understanding of acute kidney, heart and lung failure, resulting in the development of new and improved treatments.

Through this award, the ASA recognized these contributions from the U-M Medical School to the scientific care of critically ill patients.

The ASA was founded in 1880 and is made up of the leaders in surgical science and practice in America. The Medallion for Scientific Achievement recognizes a surgeon whose lifetime career has had a major impact on the science of surgery.