Faculty Profiles

Geert W. Schmid-Schoenbein

Professor, Bioengineering

Molecular and cellular biomechanics, microcirculation and transport in living tissues. Applications to cardiovascular diseases and the design of new tools for prevention and treatment. Development of the Auto-digestion Theory for shock and multiorgan failure, metabolic syndrome, and autism.

Professor Schmid-Schönbein's premise is that cardiovascular diseases are manifest in the microcirculation years before they become evident at the clinical level. He has contributed to the understanding of diseases and health conditions in which one of the body’s chief defense mechanisms – inflammation – escalates to the point of causing severe harm, even death. He directs the UCSD Microcirculation Laboratory where he and his team are studying organ injury mechanisms and apoptosis in hypertension, triggers for inflammation in the blood circulation, fundamental mechanisms for transport in lymphatics, and mechanotransduction in cells of the circulation. In recent studies, Schmid-Shoenbein's team prevented shock and multiple organ failure in experimental animals by blocking pancreatic digestive enzymes in the intestine. Recently his group discovered a mechanism that leads to activation of white blood cells, which is due to digestive enzymes and may cause cardiovascular disease. He theorizes that when blood pressure falls sharply in the intestine, pancreatic enzymes in the intestine start to escape from the lumen of the intestine (where they digest food), into the wall of the intestine. These enzymes produce and release dangerous activators into the blood stream, initiating a cascade of events leading to multiple organ failure. Schmid Schoenbein is also developing a system to filter blood in shock patients, in order to eliminate toxic protein fragments that act as inflammatory mediators. The Schmid-Schoenbein team recently described a second valve system in lymphatics, a discovery which serves to explain the transport of lymph fluid from the tissue.

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Schmid-Schönbein was born in 1948 in Baden Wurttemberg, Germany, became a U.S. citizen, and received a Ph.D. in bioengineering from UCSD in 1976. After a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at Columbia University, Schmid-Schönbein returned to UCSD in 1979 as an assistant professor. Some of his early research discoveries involved the behavior of infection-fighting white blood cells. Using engineering techniques, he made the first determination of the force with which white blood cells adhere to the walls of blood vessels as part of the initial process of inflammation. Later, he concluded that the survival of an acutely ill patient can hinge on the degree to which white blood cells are activated. Recently his group discovered a mechanism that leads to activation of white blood cells, which is due to digestive enzymes and may cause cardiovascular disease. Among his many distinctions, Schmid-Schönbein is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Heart Association. He is a founding fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and winner of the Melville Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineering.

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Geert Schmid-Schoenbein
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