Department of Surgery Year in Review

Dec. 15, 2022

Colleagues, students, alumni and friends,

I joined the Department of Surgery at the University of Arizona in January of this year, and as a newcomer, I am excited by the many strengths of the department and the willingness to embrace new ideas as we grow.

Change can be scary, but in an ever-evolving world, change is a constant. When we meet change with optimism, I think it can bring the hope of a better tomorrow. I am so grateful to have a team that so embraces that vision.

The open-mindedness, intelligence, and caring of our faculty, staff and students will enable us to do great things together. I would like to briefly update you on our progress over the past year.

Clinical Accomplishments

On the clinical side, we have added an astounding number of new faculty members in 2022. We have a new podiatry section chief, Dr. Alon Kol, who came from New York City. The cardiothoracic surgery division welcomed Dr. Stephanie Worrell, who has launched a new section of thoracic surgery and brings unrivaled expertise in the treatment of esophageal cancer and lung lesions. The divisions of trauma and surgical oncology have added seven new clinical faculty members, growing our colorectal surgery, endocrine surgery and hepatobiliary teams. I am proud to let you know that we are now the dominant provider of HPB services and the only HIPEC provider in Tucson. Finally, Dr. Ken Liechty has joined the department as our pediatric surgery division chief. His arrival will enable us to build one of the Southwest’s premier pediatric surgical specialist services and the only fetal surgery center in Arizona.

Please join me in welcoming our new faculty.

Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery:

  • Thoracic Surgery Clinical Assistant Professor Stephanie Worrell, MD, FACS

Division of Pediatric Surgery:

  • Professor Ken Liechty, MD
  • Laboratory for Fetal and Regenerative Biology Associate Professor Carlos Zgheib, PhD, MS

Division of Surgical Oncology:

  • Colorectal Surgery Clinical Assistant Professor Meghan Good, MD
  • Colorectal Surgery Clinical Assistant Professor Philip Rosen, MD
  • Endocrine Surgery Clinical Assistant Professor Sujata Saha, MD
  • Gurtner Lab Research Assistant Professor Kellen Chen, PhD
  • Gurtner Lab Research Assistant Professor (Adjunct) Artem Trotsyuk, PhD
  • HPB and HIPEC Clinical Assistant Professor Carrie Luu, MD, FACS

Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care, Burns, and Acute Care Surgery:

  • Clinical Assistant Professor Christina Colosimo, DO, MS
  • Clinical Professor Louis Magnotti, MD, MS, FACS
  • Clinical Assistant Professor Audrey Spencer, MD

Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery:

  • Podiatry Clinical Assistant Professor Alon Kol, DPM, FACFAS
  • Clinical Assistant Professor Khalil Masabni, MD

As with virtually every healthcare facility, our clinical activity has fluctuated because of COVID’s impacts. In 2021, we saw a predominance of urgent and emergent cases as people sought delayed care for their conditions. However, this year, we have seen a 13 percent increase in elective surgical procedures. Elective surgery is going to be the key to our financial viability over the next few years, and we expect continued growth in every division of the Department of Surgery.

Notable accomplishments over the past year include the opening of the Division of Trauma’s new Burn Unit, the only such facility in Tucson. The transplant service has more than tripled the number of living donor kidney transplants performed in 2022. And the National Pancreas Foundation named us a clinical and academic Center of Excellence for both pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis. These clinical successes wouldn’t be possible without the help of all of the hospital staff, residents and fellows who do so much to care for our patients. Thank you for everything you do to make sure our patients are taken care of.

Educational Achievements

Training the next generation of surgeons continues to be the core mission of our work here in Tucson. Currently, we have vibrant residency and fellowship programs in vascular, trauma, CT, minimally invasive surgery and general surgery.

Each year, we have the privilege of welcoming in a new class of residents who are embarking on their journeys to become surgeons. I‘m extremely proud of our new General Surgery Residency Program Director Dr. Mike Ditillo and his team for successfully ushering in our most recent class. I‘m also incredibly proud of our residents, who have reshaped our program’s education, cultural competency training, M&M and work-based assessments. Our residents are leaders and have helped us understand how to better meet their educational needs. We are excited to re-launch our Cape Town, South Africa, rotation in January, and we have seen a significant spike in resident research participation.

As an academic medical institution, we are in a position of influence to help shape what surgical training looks like going into the future. It encourages me when I see our educational leaders stepping up in our department and pursuing changes that I believe will make our field stronger.

Research Innovations

Finally, our translational research and surgical innovation programs continue to grow. We have a 21-million-dollar research portfolio with 8 million dollars of new awards in 2022. This has increased our Blue Ridge Fund ranking, which is based on NIH funding, from 54 for year 2020 to 46 for 2021. We expect this to continue when the 2022 rankings come out in the spring.

Aside from rankings, we have had a number of notable research accomplishments that I would like to highlight. Vascular surgeon Dr. Craig Weinkauf has also received major RO1 funding from the NIH to conduct clinical trials exploring the relationship between carotid artery disease and Alzheimer’s. The Institute for Cellular Transplantation is pioneering methods of transplanting islet cells to reverse diabetes without the need for immunosuppression. Led by Dr. Klearchos Papas, ICT is developing an in-situ device that would deliver oxygen to a localized islet cell transplantation site.

We were able to recruit Dr. Ken Liechty’s world-renowned Laboratory for Regenerative Biology, led by associate professor Dr. Carlos Zgheib. This group is developing groundbreaking treatments using stem cells, gene therapy strategies, and small molecule therapeutics and has already spun off a start-up company on campus. My own lab moved from Stanford with my co-director, assistant research professor Dr. Kellen Chen. We have been able to get NIDDK supported clinical trials up and running for diabetic foot ulcers and have begun collaborations with the C2SHIP program to develop sensor based smart electronic technology to help patients at risk of amputation or invasive infection from nonhealing wounds.

None of this work is supported by clinical revenues, and with declines in the availability of NIH funding, it is becoming increasingly difficult to help young surgeon scientists start their investigational careers. If you are interested in supporting any of our research or educational programs, please reach out to me to discuss how to help these young faculty members.

None of these accomplishments are possible without our administrative staff. I want you all to know how deeply grateful I am for the time and work you put into supporting our faculty members and our educational, research and clinical programs.

In closing, I am very proud of everything we have been able to accomplish. However, I am sure that this is just the beginning. By working together and embracing all of our different perspectives, I know that we can creatively improve surgical practice both now and in the future. Your vision, enthusiasm and perseverance inspire me each day. I am confident that we are on our way to an even better tomorrow.

Geoffrey C. Gurtner, MD, FACS
Chair, Department of Surgery
Professor, Surgery and Biomedical Engineering