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A generous donation from Lawrence Joseph Wheat, MD, to establish the Wheat Family Program of Excellence for Transplant Infectious Diseases will help IU School of Medicine recruit and support faculty members within the specialty, with the hope of leading to further discovery.

Donation establishes Wheat Family Program of Excellence

Lawrence Joseph Wheat, MD, stands with his daughter, Heather Wheat Largura, DDS, David Aronoff, MD, and Samir Gupta, MD

Lawrence Joseph Wheat, MD, (center left) stands with his daughter, Heather Wheat Largura, DDS, (right), Department of Medicine Chair David Aronoff, MD, (center right), and Division of Infectious Diseases director Samir Gupta, MD (right).

Lawrence Joseph Wheat, MD, is an accomplished infectious disease specialist. During his tenure as an Indiana University School of Medicine faculty member, his groundbreaking research led to the development of specialized testing for a fungal lung infection often experienced by HIV-positive patients at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Now, a generous donation from Wheat to establish the Wheat Family Program of Excellence for Transplant Infectious Diseases will help IU School of Medicine support faculty members within the specialty, with the hope of leading to further discovery.

Wheat is widely recognized as an expert in infectious diseases, particularly fungal infections. His more than 40 years in the field includes two decades as a faculty member at IU School of Medicine in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

Upon his retirement from the faculty, Wheat founded MiraVista Diagnostics, an Indianapolis-based clinical lab specializing in diagnostic testing for serious fungal infections. Wheat serves as the medical director and president of MiraVista Diagnostics while continuing his scientific research. He has authored more than 300 published articles on fungal infections and hundreds more on related infectious disease topics over the course of his career.

Wheat’s gift will help to further the mission of the IU School of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases: to improve the health of local and global communities by preventing and treating a variety of infectious diseases, and to conduct critical global health research focused on improving population health, especially in resource-limited communities throughout the world.

Wheat was among the division’s earliest faculty members.

After attending Indiana University for his undergraduate degree, he went on to earn his medical degree and complete his residency at IU School of Medicine.

He also served time in the United State Air Force for 2 years following his first year of infectious disease fellowship and returned to complete the second year of his fellowship after his military service.

His mentor, Arthur White, MD, encouraged him to consider infectious diseases as a specialty; White brought Wheat into the division as a fellow and later a full faculty member.

In the years that followed, Wheat became an expert in histoplasmosis, a lung infection caused by inhaling airborne fungal spores typically found in the soil in parts of Indiana and other Midwestern cities. The disease causes flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms, and is often misdiagnosed as such, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In patients with AIDS or other immunocompromising conditions such as organ transplantation or treatment with medications that are used for inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, in whom histoplasmosis is life-threatening if diagnosis is delayed or missed.

Wheat began to study histoplasmosis thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health during the AIDS crisis. The division established a Histoplasmosis Research Laboratory at Wishard Hospital, which was the county hospital in Indianapolis at the time. Work done by Wheat and others at that lab led to the creation of the first antigen test for diagnosing histoplasmosis.

Wheat said it was White’s leadership, generosity, and knack for recruiting energetic and dedicated doctors that ultimately led to the histoplasmosis test discovery. He hopes that his gift to the division will help continue that legacy.

“Although effective treatment for AIDS has markedly reduce the risk for histoplasmosis in this population, the use of medications that suppress immunity following transplantation or for treatment of inflammatory diseases will continue to pose a risk for severe histoplasmosis. An example is the occurrence of histoplasmosis in patients with COVID-19 infection, and others that are yet to be discovered," Wheat said. “We’re going to need more dedicated clinicians and researchers who are focused on prevention of, diagnosis and treatment for infections like histoplasmosis.”

The Division of Infectious Diseases currently includes 44 faculty and seven adjunct infectious diseases pharmacists and is led by Samir Gupta, MD, MS, the David H. Jacobs Professor of Infectious Diseases.

It boasts a $5-million research portfolio, which supports investigations in HIV, malaria, sexually transmitted infections (including HPV, Hemophilus ducreyi, Neisseria gonorrhea, and Chlamydia trachomatis), group B streptococcus, and Clostridium difficile. Its HIV clinical and research global health programs are also internationally recognized for their excellence and leadership by divisional faculty, primarily through collaboration with the AMPATH HIV clinical care programs in Western Kenya.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Caitlin VanOverberghe

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she supports the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Department of Ophthalmology. Having earned degrees in journalism and telecommunications ...