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Training Program

Surgical Research Program

Achieving excellence through basic and clinical scientific research is one of the goals of PENN surgeons. In many academic surgery residencies, research is an important component, often involving 1-2 years of dedicated research time. At Penn, the Harrison Department of Surgical Research serves as the umbrella organization for research in the Department of Surgery, and a listing of current projects is available on the Penn Surgery web site.

Several faculty members within the department may be interested in having medical students help in their laboratories. Some of these projects may be appropriate for summer research, while others may be more suited for a Scholarly Pursuit project, or even for an extra year of research during medical school.

Name: Peter Abt, MD
Field: Transplant Surgery
Research Description: Dr. Abt has several ongoing clinical projects related to the field of solid organ transplantation. His research primarily involves the use of existing data sets to answer clinical questions related to liver and kidney transplantation.

Research Topics Include:

  1. Biliary complications in liver transplantation from donation after cardiac death donors
  2. Risk of end stage renal disease among previous kidney donors
  3. Outcome of solid organ transplantation in previous bone marrow recipients
  4. Understanding the interaction of donor liver quality (DRI), degree of recipient hepatic decomposition, and cost of liver transplantation.

Name: Scott P. Bartlett, MD
Field: Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Research Description: Dr. Bartlett’s research focuses on craniofacial deforminities and working with the craniofacial database.

Ongoing Research Projects:

  1. A longitudinal study of growth and development in children with craniofacial deformities undergoing craniofacial surgery.
  2. Studies defining the deformity of synostosis and hemifacial microsomia utilizing 3D imaging measurement techniques.
New Research Projects:
  1. Distraction osteogenesis of the cranial vault (clinical)
  2. Novel forms of single suture synostosis
  3. Evolution of techniques in the treatment of craniosynostosis
  4. Hearing anomalies in patients with FGFR3 type synostosis
Name: Edward Cantu, MD
Field: Cardiovascular Surgery
Research Description: Dr. Cantu’s laboratory focuses on clinical and translational human lung transplantation research with particular emphasis on development of novel mechanisms for safe organ donor pool expansion. He is currently employing multiple competing strategies. Two more prominent areas of focus include: 1) objective determination of low risk donors based on clinical and genomic biomarkers and 2) enhanced donor recovery using ex vivo lung perfusion. These strategies may dramatically change the conduct of lung transplantation and allow for more patients with chronic lung diseases to be transplanted.

Name: Benjamin Jackson, MD
Field: Vascular Surgery
Research Description: Dr. Jackson’s lab integrates the clinical expertise of the Cardiovascular Institute with the research endeavors of the Gorman Cardiovascular Research Group (GCRG). The GCRG has been a leader in the development of three-dimensional echocardiography. Expansion of the GCRG’s work into additional areas of cardiovascular pathophysiology, including internal carotid stenosis, thoracic aortic dissections and aneurysms, and congenital and acquired valve disease represent recent research endeavors.

Current and recent projects include:

  1. Rupture Risk of Saccular Descending Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms by Stress Modeling
  2. Pathogenesis of Acute Aortic Dissection
  3. Real-time Three-dimensional Ultrasound Accurately Diagnoses and Stages Carotid Occlusive Disease
  4. Mitral Valve Leaflet Coaptation Area Does Not Influence Leaflet Stress: a Finite Element Simulation
  5. Increased Ascending Aortic Wall Stress in Patients with Bicuspid Aortic Valves
Name: Rachel Kelz, MD, MSCE
Field: Endocrine and Oncology Surgery
Dr. Kelz conducts health services research aimed at improving patient safety, reducing adverse events, and understanding the role of malpractice risk within a healthcare system. Other interests include outcomes research in Surgical Oncology and Endocrine Surgery (contact for details about current projects).
Name: Anna P Malykhina, PhD
Field: Urology
Dr. Malykhina runs a neurourology laboratory. This program centers on neurophysiology of functional pelvic disorders with chronic pelvic pain syndrome, with particular emphasis on the neural and humoral mechanisms underlying the processing of sensory nociceptive information by the central and peripheral nervous systems. Additional areas of interest include voltage-gated and stretch-activated ion channels expressed in human detrusor and their role in partial bladder outlet obstruction, overactive bladder and interstitial cystitis.
Name: Jose Pascual, MD, PhD
Field: Trauma and Surgical Critical Care
Research Description: Dr. Pascual has a special interest in shock and head injury. His research interests are shared in basic science research where he evaluates, in vivo, through intravital microscopy the real time microcirculation of pia on live rodent brains. He seeks to learn how a variety of insults including head injury and shock affect the microcirculation and how different management strategies influence these changes. This basic science work is translated into several clinical projects both retrospective and prospective evaluating the effects of different osmotherapeutic agents in traumatic brain injured patients as well as the immunemodulating effects of different resuscitation fluids in different forms of shock.
Name: Carrie Sims, MD
Field: Trauma and Surgical Critical Care
Dr. Sims’ research focuses on investigating novel resuscitative therapies in trauma.
*note Dr. Sims is also willing to mentor students interested in other projects within the field of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care.
Name: Sunil Singhal, MD
Field: Thoracic Surgery
Dr. Sinhal conducts immunology research. He investigates the role of myeloid derived suppressor cells and T regulatory cells following surgery in patients with resectable non-small cell lung cancer and esophageal cancer. He is working to develop a translational program to treat resectable non-small cell lung and esophageal cancer patients with a cancer vaccine.

Name: Julia Tchou, MD
Field: Endocrine and Oncology Surgery
Research Description: Dr. Tchou’s research interest is in the development of novel therapeutic approaches for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer, a subtype of breast cancer which lacks effective targeted therapy. Her laboratory research currently focuses on elucidating the role of tumor associated fibroblasts in breast cancer progression. Her research projects often span several disciplines and involve close collaborations with multiple investigators. The following is a list of ongoing projects in the laboratory:

Clinical trial investigations:

  1. Pilot clinical trial of autolgous Met Redirected T cells administered intratumoally and intravenously in patients with operable triple negative breast cancer.
  2. ACRIN 6688 “Phase II study of 3’-deoxy-3’-18F Fluorothymidine (FLT) in invasive breast cancer” – a multicenter trial
  3. Exercise and lymphedema: Can preoperative exercise program reduce the risk of lymphedema?
  4. Measuring post mastectomy pain in women having conservative surgery, mastectomy and mastectomy with reconstruction – collaborators:

Correlative investigations:

  1. Finding novel drug targets in triple negative breast cancer
  2. Axillary lymph node dissection practice patterns following the Z0011 trial
  3. Dissecting demographic disparity in the underuse of core biopsy in obtaining tissue diagnosis
  4. Correlating tumor microenvironment histology with breast MRI findings
  5. Measuring Redox potential in breast biopsy as a modality to diagnose invasive breast cancer
Basic laboratory investigations:
  1. Gene expression profile analysis of tumor associated fibroblasts (TAF) derived from different breast cancer subtypes – target discovery in fibroblast activation protein expressing TAF derived from triple negative breast cancer
  2. The role of TAF subpopulations (CD105+ vs CD105-) in tumor progression
  3. Developing novel vaccine targeting triple negative breast cancer
  4. Mesothelin as a novel therapeutic target for triple negative breast cancer


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