Departments of Surgery and Orthopedic Surgery: Collaboration and Innovation Fuel Spirit of Inquiry


The spirit of inquiry continues to grow steadily in the surgical departments at Seattle Children’s. Despite an increasingly challenging environment that makes funding for scientific investigation by surgeons difficult to find, our surgical faculty have persisted in asking compelling research questions that are leading to advances in the delivery of medical and surgical care. 

Some surgical faculty have been successful in securing their own research funding despite the difficulties. For example, Dr. Jeff Ojemann, chief of Neurosurgery, has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation continuously for the past 15 years. Dr. Tom Lendvay has been funded by the Department of Defense for his investigations about simulation and its value in improving surgical performance. Drs. David Horn and Henry Ou of Otolaryngology received NIH K awards recognizing their great promise as independent investigators studying hearing physiology. Others, such as Dr. Kim Riehle of Pediatric General Surgery who studies the molecular biology of liver tumors, have received a substantial amount of grant support from national foundations.

While the surgeons often formulate tough scientific questions based on the clinical problems that they face, their partnerships with other investigators enable them to take advantage of research skills and infrastructure to find answers. For some, the well-established outcomes research skills of faculty here at Seattle Children’s have been leveraged to identify important factors that impact health outcomes using large databases. For others, fostering partnerships with colleagues in other disciplines (like engineering, computer science or cellular biology) is leading to significant progress toward answers to clinical challenges. These collaborations have led to some exciting, potentially game-changing advances that may fundamentally improve treatments or prevent disorders that would otherwise present as serious surgical problems.

Examples of these transformative discoveries include:

  1. With some funding from the National Football League, Dr. Sam Browd and some University of Washington engineers are developing a revolutionary concept for football helmets. Browd’s interest in this topic stemmed from his role as the medical director for the multi-disciplinary Seattle Sports Concussion Program, which treats hundreds of young athletes each year with traumatic brain injuries. This new helmet concept will soon be tried by several college and professional football teams, and may substantially reduce the risk of serious head trauma in a sport that is played by hundreds of thousands of children in America.
  2. Dr. Jonathan Perkins’ collaboration with Drs. Mark Majesky and William Dobyns, colleagues from Seattle Children’s Research Institute, is leading to identification of cellular and molecular elements that will enable better categorization of vascular anomalies by genotypic and phenotypic characteristics. This knowledge will enable physicians to treat these challenging lesions more precisely and potentially minimize the need for large surgical resections. 
  3. Dr. Tom Lendvay’s collaboration with University of Washington engineers continues to be fruitful. It has led to the recent development of a revolutionary platform using Internet-based crowd sourcing to rapidly, reliably and inexpensively measure surgical skill and competency. This platform could soon provide objective assessments of skills that were previously thought to be prohibitively difficult to define or measure. Such a tool could become invaluable for surgeons, their institutions and their patients. 

We are very proud of the Seattle Children’s surgical faculty, who ask important questions based on clinical problems, work collaboratively with investigators in other disciplines, and challenge dogma. In the process, they are making major contributions and advancing pediatric surgical care.

Robert Sawin, MD
Seattle Children’s Surgeon-in-Chief
President, CUMG