Surgical Research

The Department of Surgery has a strong history of teaching and research; we first began educating students over 200 year ago. The definition of Surgical Research is best summarized by our present chair, Robert Udelsman, MD, MBA who has been quoted as saying, “What is Surgical Research? It is any research done by a surgeon.” There is no better statement to summarize the diverse and exciting areas of research that originated in our department by surgeons. It is my privilege, as the present Vice Chair for Research, to highlight our history and to showcase our most recent achievements in Surgical Research. 

It is said that our past guides our future and for this reason, I will now highlight some of the well-known and some of the less known achievements of research from the Department of Surgery over the past 200 years. Nathan Smith, MD, is recognized for creating the Department of Surgery and is generally considered the leading surgeon in New England and ultimately influenced the formation of several other schools of medicine. He invented many surgical instruments and was recognized among surgeons and the public alike as a unique leader, researcher and teacher.

Over the next one hundred years many advances in clinical care were made and the Department flourished and expanded. During this time the Department established the foundation for clinical research and also new procedures and techniques to improve surgical outcomes and patient care.

The next highlight in the history of research was in 1942 with the first successful use of penicillin in a clinical setting. This same year Gustaf Lindskog, MD applied the first use of chemotherapy in collaboration with the Pharmacology section at Yale. This was a prime example of translational research at its finest: taking bench research in Pharmacology and applying it in in a clinical setting to try and improve patient outcomes. The 1940’s came to an end with the creation of the first heart pump developed by Dr.’s Glenn and Sewell.

Nineteen Fifty ushered in the first transplant of embryonic tissue. In 1956 the Glenn Procedure for tricuspid atresia was developed, another example of clinical research within the Department. Ten years later, the first Phrenic nerve pacemaker was used allowing quadriplegics to breath without a respirator. Clinical Translational Research thrived over the next 20 years. We established the first skin bank in New England. We performed the first heart-lung transplant in Connecticut, which would not have been possible without many long, dedicated research hours to prepare and plan and practice the procedure. In 1990 we became one of the first centers for the Cryoablation of hepatic tumors, just another example of translational research.

Moving into the 21st century we continued the development of Surgical Research.  Kurt Roberts, MD directed the efforts to establish NOTES (Natural Orafice Translumenal Enscopic Surgery) in the Department that included the design and development of new instruments that are specifically suited for this new state of the art style of surgery. Under the direction of Tobias Carling, MD, PhD we recently began a genetic screening initiative for familial parathyroid and thyroid cancer which combines genetic analysis of complex diseases and surgical management to look for familial traits that can allow for improved early detection, monitoring, and planning positive surgical outcomes.

John Elefteriades, MD created the Aortic Institute to examine the genetic and familial basis of aortic disease to allow for early genetic identification of familiar members that could be susceptible to heart disease. John Geibel and Manuel Rodriguez-Davalos, MD have teamed up with the Engineering Department at Yale to create a new portable intestinal transplantation organ transfer box to improve organ survival and mortality rates.

This is a glimpse of the ongoing and exciting research projects in the Department. High level Translational Research requires large capital investments and the financial assistance of grateful patients and families, along with the support from federal and nonfederal sources. At present the Department has approximately $19 million in funds that are used for research.

Our faculty are actively pursuing new funding at all levels. We are also in the process of developing a strong clinical trial component to our research enterprise. All with the same goal, to improve the quality of life for those who come to us for help. It is my honor and privilege to lead this research enterprise and I would be happy to provide more details on any of our programs.

John Geibel MD,DSc,MSc, AGAF
Vice Chair for Research