Research Highlights

The Department of Plastic Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center is among the premier clinical research programs in the world. Being part of a leading academic medical institution provides our surgeons with an opportunity that is unparalleled in many other plastic surgery practices to not only understand, but also define the newest surgical and medical approaches for our patients.

Our goal is to have a direct impact on the understanding of the effectiveness of cosmetic and reconstructive procedures and to improve results for patients. Completed and ongoing research efforts have led to discoveries, advanced techniques, and various innovations that improve clinical outcomes.

UT Southwestern Plastic Surgery has groundbreaking research underway in anatomical studies, facial aging, wound management and healing, the impact of stems cells on reconstructive and surgical procedures, how adipose (fat) cells work, the effectiveness of devices and new technology, abdominal wall reconstruction, nerve regeneration and growth, and many other areas.

Here are just a few of the areas already influencing patient care:

  • Our team has identified many characteristics of the fat pads that comprise regions of the face, as well as how they change over a person’s life. Understanding this has a significant impact on individualizing facial rejuvenation procedures to achieve results that look natural and last as long as possible.
  • We have investigated how stem cells can promote healing.
  • Our discoveries with flaps and graft techniques for breast reconstruction, along with surgical innovations, are increasing options to create new breasts for cancer patients that look and feel natural.
  • Understanding which products and techniques are more effective in preventing and decreasing scar formation after surgery is part of our research.
  • We know more now about how Botox can be used to treat migraines.
  • Because of our work with lasers, UT Southwestern Plastic Surgery has been at the forefront of work in the United States to determine the safety and efficacy of new technology on body contouring (for example, if laser liposuction is safe and effective).

Research Highlights

UT Southwestern Plastic Surgery has more than 100 pre-clinical and clinical studies designed to examine various devices, drugs, and techniques. Highlights of these investigations and examples of ongoing research projects in the following areas are below.

Anatomical Studies

One of our areas of research is the development of new flaps and reconstructive strategies that have been translated into clinical use, including procedures involving breast reconstruction and skin cancer. Since 2005, the Department of Plastic Surgery has investigated more than 300 flaps as part of an effort to better define the blood supply and vascular territory of commonly used perforator flaps in reconstruction. This volume has allowed the researchers to provide a thorough analysis of the intrinsic blood supply. The team has investigated a wide variety of perforator flaps (ex: DIEP, ALT, TDAP, SGAP/IGAP, etc.) and conventional flaps.

Emerging Technologies

With new technology and products, more opportunities than ever exist to improve outcomes for aesthetic and reconstructive surgery patients. We have conducted extensive work with emerging technologies, including the role of lasers on improving chronic wound outcomes, in particular as a minimally invasive method of enhancing transdermal delivery of drugs. This also includes techniques to isolate stem cells from adipocyte (fat) tissue, investigating the role of these stem cells in conjunction with fat grafting in wound healing models, such as cutaneous radiation injuries.

Nerve Biology

The basic science of peripheral nerve reconstruction remains largely undefined. This impacts a wide variety of patients, including those being treated for brachial plexus injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, hand transplantation, and even migraine headaches. We are investigating strategies to improve peripheral nerve regeneration such as tissue-engineered strategies for the reconstruction of long nerve gap peripheral defects (those that measure greater than 3 cm in length).

Wound Healing

This research increases our understanding of how to manage and treat various types of wounds and incisions from surgery. Studies are underway to ultimately develop new wound care strategies. We have a wide range of work underway – from understanding how to improve the treatment of chronic wounds from diabetes to managing surgical incisions. Some of the current research includes exploring the use of adipose-derived stem cells as a tool for soft tissue reconstruction. An important aspect of ongoing studies is to investigate the adipose depot-specific characteristics of whole lipoaspirate, adipocytes, and adipose-derived stem cells.