Schmidt receives 2022 DiBona Award

The below is a message from Bradley Dixon, MD, Chief of Medicine, Iowa City VA Health Care System (ICVA).

It is with enormous pleasure that I announce that the Awards Committee has selected Dr. Warren N. Schmidt, staff physician at the ICVA and Emeritus Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Carver College of Medicine as the recipient of the second DiBona Academics in Service of ICVA Veterans Award. Dr. Schmidt truly embodies the tenets upon which this award was predicated, a physician primarily working at the ICVA holding a joint academic appointment with the University of Iowa and demonstrating a sustained, outstanding commitment to clinical care, education and research in the service of veterans at the ICVA.

Dr. Schmidt received his undergraduate degree from Augustana College in Rock Island, a Masters in Biology and PhD in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He served as an Assistant Professor of Pathology and Biochemistry at Vanderbilt for several years before matriculating in medical school at the University of Tennessee in Memphis where he completed his MD followed by a Residency in Internal Medicine. He came to the University of Iowa for his fellowship in Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 1992 and has remained here for the duration of his career rapidly rising through the ranks to become Professor of Medicine and Medical Director of VA Hepatology Services at the Iowa City VA until his recent retirement in 2021. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Medicine.

Dr. Schmidt has had a long interest in liver disease. He initially focused on understanding tumor antigens in hepatomas using rodent models. Since coming to Iowa, Dr. Schmidt’s research has been focused on understanding the pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment of Hepatitis C virus. Initially, he was mentored by Dr. Jack Stapleton, the inaugural DiBona Award recipient, as well as Dr. Douglas LaBrecque, former chief of Liver Services at Iowa. While he was a GI/Hepatology fellow, they developed a technique to measure Hepatitis C in whole blood that was more sensitive than plasma determinations at that time. They also studied cryoglobulinemia, a disorder that can lead to cirrhosis, which led to the discovery that some patients with unexplained chronic hepatitis actually had Hepatitis C. He and other investigators also showed that patients with Hepatitis C-associated cryoglobulinemia had worse liver disease and outcomes. Studying the mechanism of hepatocyte injury, Dr. Schmidt and colleagues determined that Hepatitis C infection selectively inhibits heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) expression and increasing HO-1 inhibits Hepatitis C replication and reduces oxidant-induced hepatocyte injury. The effects of HO-1 may be mediated through an antiviral effect of biliverdin, an HO-1 product, which directly inhibits the hepatitis C virus NS3-4A protease. The Hepatitis C protease is important for infection and is the target for many current highly effective anti-viral therapies. Dr. Schmidt and his group have gone on to show that metalloprotoporphyrins, such as heme, are potent inhibitors of NS3-4A protease and may be useful in development of new antiviral agents for related viruses such as yellow fever and dengue, beyond Hepatitis C. More recent molecular work has centered on how Hepatitis C contributes to the formation of liver cancer through specific effects on telomerase, an enzyme crucial for cancer cells.

In addition to this work on basic mechanisms of liver disease and therapy, Dr. Schmidt has also led major clinical trials at the Iowa City VA and University of Iowa, which contributed to multicenter evaluation of Hepatitis C treatments including interferon-ribavirin and ultimately the highly effective triple combination drug therapies including anti-protease and anti-polymerase inhibitors. Dr. Schmidt’s research has been continuously funded by NIH and VA Merit awards and he has numerous publications and book chapters. He is widely sought after as a lecturer on Hepatitis C and has served on many NIH study sections and review panels. Dr Schmidt is an excellent educator and clinician and has mentored numerous fellows, post-graduate and graduate trainees and students.

In short, Dr. Schmidt is an outstanding and exemplary awardee for the second DiBona award. His career truly embodies the high standards exemplified by Dr. DiBona and continues the high bar set for this award.

We wish to also recognize the nominations of other very distinguished and deserving candidates, and we look forward to recognizing the many contributions of these other deserving VA-based academic physicians with the DiBona Award in the future.

Please join me in congratulating Dr. Schmidt on this well-deserved award!

Dr. Schmidt will deliver the annual DiBona Award Lecture at Medical Grand Rounds on May 19. The preliminary title for his lecture is “The Hepatitis C that Was.”

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