Surgery Research Day Showcases Wide Scope of Cutting-Edge Advances

Surgical and basic science faculty, surgical trainees and invited guests explored and shared a wide range of advances at Surgery Research Day at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Surgery Research Day poster session photo
Researchers and attendees at the Surgery Research Day poster session.

The second annual event, held May 10, included traditional surgery studies, as well as presentations on gene therapy for wound healing, mesenchymal stem cell treatment for cardiomyopathy, and manipulating immunotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer.

“We intentionally keep a very broad scope for research in our department,” said Ashok K. Saluja, Ph.D., director of Sylvester’s Pancreatic Cancer Research Institute and vice chair of research in the Department of Surgery.

Saluja presented data demonstrating the department’s overall leadership in this area. “In most medical schools, surgery departments are not the center of research – it’s usually the medicine department or the basic science department,” he said. But the UM Department of Surgery serves as “an epicenter of research.”

“We have more NIH RO1 grants for individual researchers … than any other department on this campus,” he said. In addition, the Miller School of Medicine ranks third in the nation among institutions receiving these grants.

One key to their success is collaboration. “The best and most successful model is when surgeons and basic scientists – M.D.s and Ph.D.s – collaborate with each other,” Saluja said. “That is what happens in our department more than anywhere else I’ve seen.”

Surgery Research Day began with grand rounds involving surgical trainees along with surgery and basic science faculty. Edward Abraham, M.D., executive vice president for health affairs and CEO of UHealth, and Carl Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., executive dean for research and director of the William Lehman Injury Research Center, welcomed the 200-plus attendees.

The keynote address by Julie A. Freischlag, M.D., dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine, compared 15 years of outcomes from endoscopic versus open repairs for abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Several faculty members shared their latest research updates. “Since our research is so diverse, Research Day is an opportune time for faculty to know what their colleagues are working on; this fosters a meaningful research environment that promotes collaboration,” said Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery, David Kimmelman Endowed Chair in Vascular Surgery, and surgeon-in-chief for the University of Miami Health System and Jackson Health System.

Importantly, Surgery Research Day also showcases work done by trainees. “Each trainee presentation encapsulated just how much medicine and basic science collaboration is occurring in our labs,” Velazquez said.

It is important to include trainee research, Saluja said, because “the trainees are our future and will be carrying the torch. By showing their work, they hone their presentation skills – and at the same time they get input on their work from others.”

The day culminated in a poster session with 104 studies showcased in a tent set up on the Schoninger Research Quadrangle.

Collaboration was also central to the poster presentations. A total of 22 faculty members outside the Department of Surgery served as reviewers and selected six award-winning posters. The awardees were announced during a reception and presentation that wrapped up Surgery Research Day.

Surgery Research Day included what Saluja called a “very health mix” of basic science, translational and clinical findings. Ultimately, the day was a celebration of collaboration, hard work and mentorship, all designed to advance evidence-based medicine and improve patient diagnosis, treatment and outcomes.