PROFILES IN SURGICAL RESEARCH
Can you start by describing your overall path to
medicine and research?
I’ve always wondered where my interests came from
because nobody in my family was in medicine or science. My mother was an elementary school teacher,
and I went to college with plans to be a high school
biology teacher. I knew my pediatrician and that
was about it. When I ended up at the University of
Illinois, they closed the education program because
they thought there were going to be too many teachers. So, I ended up in the pre-med curriculum sort
of by default.
My first research project was as a pre-med student. I was told to do some research to help boost my
application to medical school. So, I spent time with a
neuroscientist with whom I looked at the reproductive areas of the brains in hamsters. I remember it
felt very odd looking at slides on Friday and Saturday nights while sitting across the street from a bar!
While at Rush Medical College, Chicago, IL, I did
some research for a March of Dimes study on Turner
syndrome patients, looking at how their brains work.
I really liked it, so I chose my residency at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) mainly
because there was a research requirement. I wanted
to do more research. When I was at UCLA, I spent
two years in the research lab of Ronald W. Busuttil,
MD, PhD, FACS, a vascular surgeon who is now chair
of surgery there. We studied the differences between
peripheral and peritoneal neutrophils in an appendicitis model. While at UCLA, I wrote my first abstract
and gave my first presentations. I think I published
about 12 papers with Dr. Busuttil. He was the one
who really got me going on my research career.
Early in my career as a vascular surgeon, I learned
the importance of neutrophils in reperfusion injuries, so I began to work with rabbit models to look
for interventions to prevent those injuries. While I
was a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, I smoked rabbits to study the effect
of smoking on the endothelium of different arteries.
All of my neutrophil function research examined the
effects of reperfusion and smoking, and it made for
a really great career.
What has been a key to your success in research?
Part of my success was making the time, finding uninterrupted time, and having the right resources. I really
enjoyed doing research at UCLA. I had to drive to my
lab, which was in a psychiatry ward facility across the
street from the VA hospital. When I was doing experiments there two days a week, I had few distractions
because nobody knew where I was. When I was in
Milwaukee, I spent two days a week in my research
lab, where they had built a smoking chamber for me.
So, I have found that what has made a huge difference in my research success has been having the right
space and resources, as well as coming up with time-management strategies necessary to focus on research.
I think that’s probably the biggest challenge—mapping
out your time and your plan for the year.
With funding somewhat limited, what are your
recommendations to young surgeon-scientists?
You have to be set up with a successful person in the
lab. You no longer can come in with your own little
project, put yourself in the lab, close the door, and three
years later come out funded. It’s not going to happen.
You need to have a research mentor and a successful
lab where you’re going to become part of that project
or your project matches what they do. You need to have
a great team around you. You have to listen because
some of the ideas you are going to have may not be
fundable, and you need to hear that and adapt to what
your mentor and your research team think is going to
get funded. I’ve known a couple of researchers who
didn’t listen. They loved their project, but it never got
funded. You have to write lots of grants. It could be
the same type of grant, but it has to be submitted to