Doctors examining specimens

Our Researchers and Labs

Acute Care and Regional General Surgery

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Angela Gibson, MD, PhD: Improving wound healing and burn injury outcomes

Dr. Gibson’s Lab >>

Dr. Gibson’s laboratory is interested in 1) epithelial regeneration in burn injury, 2) evaluation of skin substitutes for burn injury, 3) human skin model development for wound healing, and 4) understanding the burn wound microenvironment. The Gibson lab aims to conduct basic wound healing research that will translate into clinical advancements for patients with burn injury. The long-term goal is to identify the basic cellular and micro-environmental requirements for autologous burn wound regeneration in humans, in order to aid development of technologies and biologic products that will improve morbidity and mortality in burn injury.

Hee Soo Jung, MD: Reducing error in trauma care through team communication

Dr. Jung’s research focuses on reducing preventable errors in trauma care through the development of novel educational and assessment methodologies. His team currently studies interdisciplinary team communication and its impact on patient care. He also investigates clinical outcomes in trauma, emergency general surgery, and critical care.

Mehreen Kisat, MBBS, MS

Ben Zarzaur, MD, MPH: Improving quality of life for injured and acutely ill patients

Dr. Zarzaur’s Lab >>

Dr. Zarzaur is interested in long-term, patient centered outcomes for those who have suffered injury or an acute surgical illness. He and his multi-disciplinary team have developed an innovative and scalable collaborative care model that is focused on improving the long-term functional ability and quality of life of these patients.

Colorectal Surgery

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Julia Berian, MD, MS: Improving surgical care for older adults

Dr. Berian is focused on improving the surgical care of older adults. She has worked with the American College of Surgeons in building a Geriatric Surgery Verification program. Her current research aims to facilitate goal-concordant patient care and optimize cognitive and functional outcomes for older surgical patients.

Evie Carchman, MD: Identifying new targeted therapies to combat anal cancer

Dr. Carchman’s Lab >>

Dr. Carchman studies molecular pathways, including the autophagic pathway, which result in the development of anal dysplasia and progression to anal cancer. Her team has demonstrated that topical therapy that results in autophagic induction decreases both anal cancer and anal dysplasia development in an HPV mouse model of anal cancer, and that this treatment effect correlates with the induction of autophagy. Dr. Carchman is assessing the role of autophagic induction in the prevention of squamous cell carcinoma of the anus. 

Elise Lawson, MD, MSHS: Improving quality of care for surgical patients

Dr. Lawson is Executive Director of the Surgical Collaborative of Wisconsin, a state-wide surgeon-led organization that aims to optimize quality, reduce costs, and promote delivery of care that is safe, effective, equitable, and patient-centered. Dr. Lawson’s research investigates variation in the delivery of colorectal cancer care, specifically addressing disparities in access, management, and outcomes.

Endocrine Surgery

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David Schneider, MD, MS: Optimizing endocrine cancer care

Dr. Schneider’s Lab >> 

Dr. Schneider’s research program investigates the optimization of endocrine surgical care in the United States with a particular interest in clinical informatics tools to improve decision-making. This work utilizes electronic health record data, natural language processing, and machine learning. His research focuses on clinical decision support for endocrine diseases and innovative language analysis for measuring quality of life. Dr. Schneider also serves on the Physician Informatics team for UW Health and the Department of Surgery.

Rebecca Sippel, MD: Optimizing the treatment of patients with endocrine disorders

Dr. Sippel’s Lab >>

Dr. Sippel’s research program is focused on optimizing the treatment of patients with endocrine disorders and improving the treatment of thyroid cancer. She currently is PI on an NIH-funded randomized controlled trial looking at the role of prophylactic central neck dissection in the treatment of thyroid cancer. Dr. Sippel is also interested in improving patient education and decision making related to the treatment of Graves’ Disease.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

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Luke Funk, MD, MPH: Eliminating barriers to obesity care

Dr. Funk’s research interests are focused on improving the health of adults with obesity by identifying and eliminating barriers to evidence-based obesity care. He has developed an educational intervention to address these barriers in U.S. Veterans and is investigating disparities in bariatric surgery outcomes. His team is also examining data from the electronic health record to understand longitudinal associations between obesity, weight changes, and obesity-related comorbidities, including cancer.

David Harris, MD: Studying metabolism and healthspan after bariatric surgery

Dr. Harris studies the mechanistic intersection between bariatric surgery, metabolism, and aging. Using complex surgical models in mice, his current lab efforts focus on how bariatric surgery effects the process of cellular senescence and by doing so, mitigates metabolic diseases and extends healthspan.

Corrine Voils, PhD: Improving patient adherence to treatment

Dr. Voils’ Lab >>

Dr. Voils, a social psychologist, uses qualitative and quantitative methodologies to study and improve treatment adherence. Her research focuses on identifying the psychosocial variables associated with treatment adherence, conducting randomized controlled trials to evaluate the effectiveness of behavioral interventions, and measuring medication adherence. In this research, she employs a variety of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods designs. She has been the Principal Investigator of randomized controlled trials to evaluate the efficacy of a weight loss maintenance intervention; to evaluate the effectiveness of a spouse-assisted intervention for patient cholesterol reduction; and to evaluate the clinical utility of genetic testing for type 2 diabetes.

Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery

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Scott R. Chaiet, MD, MBA: Studying patient experiences after facial surgery

Dr. Chaiet’s research interests include emotion processing and patient reported outcomes in facial nerve paralysis treatment, patient experience with facial gender surgery, and guideline adherence to Bell’s palsy treatment.

Michelle Ciucci, PhD: Improving outcomes for patients with Parkinson's disease

Dr. Ciucci’s Lab >>

Dr. Ciucci’s translational research program is directed at improving treatments for voice and swallowing disorders. Her lab aims to elucidate the relevant neurobiological processes that affect disease progression and how targeted exercise may slow or reverse the degenerative processes. Understanding these mechanisms will lead to better treatments and functional outcomes for patients with Parkinson’s disease, including drug discovery and repurposing along with behavior interventions.

Nadine Connor, PhD: Elucidating changes in voice and swallowing

Dr. Connor’s Lab >>

Dr. Connor’s lab aims to understand how physiological and structural properties of muscles and the central and peripheral nervous systems change with aging, surgery, diseases, and disorders, and how these changes may influence properties of voice production, speech, and swallowing. The lab’s ultimate interest is the manner in which behavioral, medical, or surgical treatment may affect change in function and quality of life. Lab members have developed a research program within this overall framework that involves techniques from the basic sciences and human clinical sciences, especially in patient-centered research regarding perceptions of health quality and its measurement.

David O. Francis, MD, MS: Developing novel treatments for vocal fold paralysis

Dr. Francis’s research focuses on a patient-centered approach to personalizing and improving the care of patients with ear, nose, and throat disorders. His primary areas of study involve 1) understanding the causes  of geographic variations in care, 2) promoting prevention of iatrogenic vocal fold paralysis, 3) understanding the patient experience of living with unilateral vocal fold paralysis, 4) development of new measurement tools to measure disability related to unilateral vocal fold paralysis, and 5) developing novel treatments and comparing their effectiveness in improving the care of patients with unilateral vocal fold paralysis.

Jack Jiang, MD, PhD: Uncovering new methods for measuring human sound

Laryngeal Physiology Laboratory >>

Dr. Jiang’s research focuses on objective pathological laryngeal function assessments, laryngeal physiology, biomechanics of vocal fold vibration, medical instrumentation, medical software development and application.

Ruth Litovsky, PhD: Restoring binaural hearing in patients

Dr. Litovsky’s Binaural Hearing and Speech Lab >>

Dr. Litovsky’s lab focuses on binaural hearing: how the brain integrates information from the two ears so that we can listen in noisy, complex auditory environments and localize sound sources. The lab studies how cochlear implantation in childen and adults restores binaural hearing in patients with bilateral cochlear implants or patients with single-sided deafness. The investigators are interested in neural plasticity, reverse engineering electrical stimulation and use objective measures including pupillometry and functional near infrared spectroscopy.

Susan Thibeault, PhD: Advancing the treatment of vocal fold injuries

Dr. Thibeault’s Lab >>

The Thibeault lab research program focuses broadly on further understanding the biological mechanisms of the extracellular matrix of the vocal folds, specifically related to inflammation, fibrosis and scarring in the larynx. Specifically, our research has focused on translational and clinical investigations of laryngeal disorders to characterize critical aspects of dysregulated extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition since 2001.

Nathan Welham, PhD: Regenerating vocal fold tissue

Dr. Welham is a speech-language pathologist and scientist focused on vocal fold mucosal biology. He is particularly interested in tissue regeneration, matrix and matrisome, vitamin A transport and function, and physiology. Dr. Welham leads a small research group that collaborates closely with analytical chemists and biochemists, bioinformaticists, cell biologists, immunologists, and surgeons. The group has been funded by the National Institutes of Health since 2006.

Pediatric Surgery

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Hau Le, MD: Identifying mechanosensors that affect lung development

Dr. Le’s lab studies mechanical forces in lung development and injury in order to develop effective treatments for diseases such as congenital diaphragmatic hernia and bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Using novel models that mimic the normal physiology of the lungs and thorax, Dr. Le and his team are looking to identify mechanosensors on the lungs that might affect how the organ develops under mechanical stimulation, and how mechanosensors contribute to lung injury.

Plastic Surgery

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Samuel Poore, MD, PhD: Discovering new methods to repair nerve injuries

The Microsurgery and Regenerative Medicine Lab >>

Dr. Poore and his lab, which includes Aaron Dingle, PhD, are developing new methods for repairing peripheral nerve injuries based on their success in transposing painful amputated nerves into bone to prevent neuropathic pain. Preliminary studies show that nerves thrive when transposed into the medullary cavity of long bones—a highly vascularized stem cell and growth factor niche. In the lab, they utilize the intramedullary canal of long bones as an intravital bioreactor for nerve regeneration. Dr. Poore’s lab has also developed and is testing an osseointegrated neural interface for advanced prosthesis control.

Wisconsin Plastic Surgery Research Projects

Wisconsin Plastic Surgery Research Projects >>

A robust inventory of clinical and basic science research projects that serve to address the important questions in the ever-evolving field of plastic and reconstructive surgery

Surgical Oncology

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Daniel Abbott, MD: Using telehealth to increase efficiency and patient satisfaction

Dr. Abbott’s research focuses on efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the care of cancer patients. He is interested in implementing and broadening the use of telehealth to maximize resource utilization and patient satisfaction.

Laura Bozzuto, MD, MS: Endocrine Therapy and Breast Cancer

Dr. Bozzuto’s research interest focuses on the effects of endocrine therapy for young patients with breast cancer.

Rebecca Minter, MD, MBA, FACS: Fostering autonomy in surgical training

Dr. Minter’s research efforts are primarily focused within the domain of surgical education, including the development of training frameworks that explicitly define progressive entrustment and the development of autonomy. She has helped to champion a new, competency-based assessment framework of Entrustable professional activities (EPAs), and is currently partnering with the American Board of Surgery to deliver faculty and resident development interventions nationally to pilot programs in the U.S. that are implementing EPAs.

Muhammed Murtaza, MBBS, PhD: Using Genomics and Computational Biology to Improve Cancer Patient Outcomes

Dr. Murtaza’s research is focused on leveraging genomics and computational biology to bridge diagnostic gaps and improve outcomes for cancer patients. The lab investigates new strategies for improving accuracy of and access to circulating tumor DNA analysis for early detection, treatment response monitoring, and for tracking and leveraging cancer evolution.

Heather Neuman, MD, MS: Improving care for breast cancer survivors

Dr. Neuman’s research focuses on patient-oriented clinical outcomes including patient decision-making, quality of life, and survivorship. Her primary research uses mixed methods to improve the quality and efficiency of breast cancer follow-up provided to breast cancer survivors. Secondary research interests include the use of decision aids to improve patient decision-making surrounding breast cancer surgery.

Sean Ronnekleiv-Kelly, MD: Unraveling the progression of pancreas cancer

Dr. Ronnekleiv-Kelly studies the formation and progression of pancreatic cancer. He is especially interested in a type of ‘environmental sensor’ pathway that has strong correlations with cancer development and progression – the circadian clock.  The proteins in this pathway function to regulate circadian rhythms (circadian clock proteins). Dr. Ronnekleiv-Kelly explores how circadian disruption contributes to pancreatic cancer progression in mouse models and human-derived models of pancreas cancer.  He has also generated novel models of Fibrolamellar carcinoma (FLC) in order to understand the pathogenic mechanism by which the oncogene fusion in FLC (DNAJB1-PRKACA) promotes tumor growth and spread. From this mechanistic understanding, he works to identify novel therapies.  

Patrick Varley, MD, MS: Quality of Surgical Care in Medically Complex Patients

Dr. Varley conducts health services research into systems, provider and patient factors which influence the quality of surgical care in medically complex patients. His previous work has focused on confirming the importance of frailty as a risk for adverse surgical outcomes, as well as implementation of practical strategies to routinely identify frail patients prior to surgery. His current work is aimed at improving cancer care delivery within the Veterans Affairs system by analyzing the influence increasing care fragmentation due to expanded use of non-VA care.

Sharon Weber, MD: Reducing hospital readmission rates

Dr. Weber conducts health outcomes research on a variety of topics, including evaluation of preoperative predictors of postoperative complications, assessment of risk factors for readmission after major abdominal surgery, and evaluation of perioperative factors that impact outcome, including frailty. Her research interests include mixed-methods evaluation of risk factors for hospital readmission using a systems engineering approach, with a focus on the transition of care. She seeks to understand the causes of readmission from the patient’s perspective, with the goal of creating a tool that will help to decrease readmissions and associated health care costs.  She is the director of the UW’s surgical transitional care program. 

Lee Wilke, MD: Discovering new treatments for breast cancer patients

Dr. Wilke’s principal research interest is in clinical trials seeking novel methods of treating patients with breast cancer. Dr. Wilke is lead Principal investigator for the UW Carbone Cancer Center NCTN Lead Academic Program UG1 Grant and a Board member for the NCCN and NAPBC. She is a collaborator on multiple grants and trials evaluating novel medical and surgical treatments for breast cancer.

Syed Nabeel Zafar, MD, MPH: Improving cancer surgery and care

Dr. Zafar conducts health services research and research on global oncology/global surgery. He analyzes large datasets to study outcomes after cancer surgery, as well as disparities in outcomes after surgical care. He uses machine learning and predictive analytics to better predict outcomes after pancreas cancer surgery.  His global research involves, research capacity building, surgical quality improvement and improving cancer care delivery in low-and middle-income countries.


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David Al-Adra, MD, PhD: Improving transplant tolerance through immunomodulation

Dr. Al-Adra’s Lab >>

The research interests of Dr. Al-Adra’s lab include: 1) Organ preservation using normothermic ex-vivo perfusion (NEVP); 2) Studying the effects NEVP has on the immune cells within the organ; and 3) Identifying targets to decrease the organ’s immunogenicity after transplant using NEVP.

David D. Aufhauser, MD: Mitigating immune responses to xenoantigens

Dr. Aufhauser studies xenotransplantation with a focus on understanding and mitigating immune responses to xenoantigens. His long-term is to identify targets for genetic engineering and tailored immunosuppression that will facilitate clinical adaptation of xenotransplantation in humans to alleviate organ shortages.

Matthew Brown, PhD: Using immunology & stem cells to improve transplant outcomes

Dr. Brown’s Lab >>

Dr. Brown’s lab focuses on exploring the nexus of pluripotent stem cell biology and immunology. It is currently investigating the mechanisms underpinning the immune response to autologous and allogeneic pluripotent stem cell (PSC)-derived cell therapies. Using transplantation immunology and genomics-based strategies in conjunction with humanized mouse models, the lab’s goals are to 1) improve traditional organ transplantation outcomes, 2) gain new insights into PSC biology and immunology, and 3) enable curative regenerative medicine therapies.

David P. Foley, MD: Enhancing organ function after kidney and liver transplantation

Dr. Foley’s clinical research interests include studying protective strategies to decrease organ damage and enhance organ function after kidney and liver transplantation. Dr. Foley focuses on identifying and modifying clinical risk factors that lead to poor liver function after liver transplantation. These include studying the use of older donor livers, livers recovered from donation after circulatory determination of death donors, and livers with steatosis. Dr. Foley’s basic research efforts are focused on identifying novel protective strategies to minimize ischemia-reperfusion injury (IRI) in liver and kidney transplantation.

Luis Hidalgo, MD: Identifying immunological risk characteristics of donors and recipients

Dr. Hidalgo’s research laboratory aims to elucidate the various mechanisms used by the human immune system to damage transplanted organs with specific focus on antibody-mediated rejection (ABMR). The laboratory’s projects are split into two principal areas: immune effector cells in ABMR, and endothelial cell biology. Findings within either of these areas have clinical implications, as all of the lab’s studies are based on human immunology using primary cells. Their ultimate goal is to identify donor and recipient characteristics that define immunologic risk beyond the limited characteristics currently used.

Dixon Kaufman, MD, PhD: Minimizing immunosuppression in kidney transplant recipients

Kaufman Laboratory

Dr. Kaufman’s Lab focuses on immunosuppression minimization in kidney transplant recipients, and human clinical trials of islet transplantation. An NIH U01 award supports the Kaufman Lab’s work as part of the Non-human Primate Tolerance Study Group Consortium. The lab has successfully performed a combination of two procedures that resulted in a phenomenon called mixed chimerism (where the immune system consists of a mixture of cells from both the donor and recipient)—leading to drug free acceptance of the kidney transplant for as long as four years.

Joshua Mezrich, MD: Understanding how the environment alters the immune system

Dr. Mezrich and his lab team look at models of transplant and autoimmunity to study how the outside environment alters the immune system, from exposure to airway pollution to diet to microbiome. In one line of his research, Dr. Mezrich is working with a multidisciplinary, collaborative group to assess the potential role of bacterial populations found in human kidney recipients in acceptance or rejection of organs, utilizing germ-free mice as recipients of stool transplants from these human recipients.

Jon Odorico, MD: Innovative technologies in stem cell biology

Dr. Odorico’s Lab >>

Dr. Odorico’s laboratory team studies pancreatic lineage differentiation, including the differentiation of insulin-producing islet endocrine cells, from embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The work is designed to address two critical needs. First is the need to generate an unlimited supply of functional insulin-secreting beta cells to be used to replace damaged beta cells in patients with diabetes. Second is the need for a cell culture model to study, specifically, human pancreas and islet development, given known differences between humans and lower organisms and the inability to study human organ development in vivo.

Carrie Thiessen, MD, PhD: Identifying strategies to increase living kidney donation

Dr. Thiessen’s research goals include the development of an independently funded research program aimed at identifying strategies to increase living kidney donation and the examination of ethical issues surrounding organ transplantation.

Jacqueline Garonzik Wang, MD, PhD: Increasing rates of kidney transplantation

Dr. Garonzik Wang’s research focuses on identifying novel strategies to increase rates of deceased and living donor kidney transplantation. She is also actively investigating the effects of COVID-19 in solid organ transplant recipients and studying methods to improve SARS-CoV-2 vaccine response rates in immunosuppressed individuals.

Vascular Surgery

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Kyla Bennett, MD: Mitigating socioeconomic effects on patient outcomes

Dr. Bennett’s research interests include socioeconomic effects on outcomes of vascular disease and vascular surgery as well as methods to mitigate these effects. Her interests also include patient-centered decision making – improving assessment of patient-specific comorbidity and operative outcome risk assessment and delivering this information to the patient.

Gretchen Schwarze, MD, MPP: Improving communication for surgical decision making

The Patient Preferences Project: Better Communication for Surgical Decision Making >>

The Patient Preferences Project, led by vascular surgeon and medical ethicist Margaret “Gretchen” Schwarze, MD, MPP, helps older patients who are considering major surgery make decisions that are in line with their values, goals and preferences.

Girma Tefera, MD

Dr. Tefera has clinical research interests in abdominal aortic aneurysm treatment with endovascular stent graft, distal peripheral artery bypass surgery, and angioplasty and stent for limb salvage.

Dai Yamanouchi, MD, PhD: Investigating calcification in aortic aneurysm

Dr. Yamanouchi’s Lab >>

The major focus of Dr. Yamanouchi’s lab is to understand the pathogenesis of abdominal aortic aneurysm with particular attention to calcium regulation in arteriosclerotic disease. Arterial calcification, commonly associated with aging and atherosclerosis, has recently attracted significant attention in the research community. Arterial calcification is a carefully controlled system relying upon a delicate balance between anabolic process by osteoblasts and catabolic process by osteoclasts. Dr. Yamanouchi and his group have reported the presence of osteoclast-like cells (OLCs) in abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). They are also devoted to the development of novel materials for vascular bypass graft, and gene delivery methods to treat patients who suffer from peripheral arterial disease.