Department of Plastic Surgery



Research has been an integral part of the Plastic Surgery Program at Vanderbilt for the past 32 years. This endeavor is powered by plastic surgery research fellows in conjunction with the Laboratory Director, Lillian B. Nanney, Ph.D, the attending physicians within the department, and collaborations with colleagues in various disciplines at Vanderbilt. 

The objectives of the Plastic Surgery Research Efforts include:

  • Discovery of the mechanisms of cutaneous wound repair and regeneration using porcine, rat, and mouse models
  • Discovery of pivotal molecules responsible for impairments in human healing in acute burn injury, chronic wounds or other challenging wound healing conditions.
  • Contributions to evidence-based clinical literature that advance the field of plastic surgery
  • Pre-clinical and clinical evaluations of new healing and reparative modalities (drug candidates or devices) with a focus on nerve repair or cutaneous repair
  • Support of the scholarly research endeavors of Plastic Surgery Residents

Current Research Efforts
The Lab Director’s research program continues her longstanding focus on wound repair and regeneration. After many years of focusing on single growth factors and their modulation on repair, she and her colleagues have expanded to include systemic approaches (proteomics and lipidomics) to discover the complex interplay between pivotal molecules across the continuum of wound repair in animals and humans. Dr. Nanney and her team compare and contrast molecules that are associated with the regenerative phenotype in the MRL mouse with molecules expressed during poor healing outcomes in humans in situations such as acute burns that produce hypertrophic scarring and contractures or pressure ulcers where there is organ failure of the skin. The porcine model continues to be a frequently used approach for preclinical evaluation of devices or drugs.  Various add back strategies or suppression strategies for candidate molecules are underway to favorably modulate wound repair.

Wesley Thayer, MD, PhD. directs a robust effort within the plastic surgery lab aimed at modulating and minimizing  degeneration in injured peripheral nerves. He and a cadre of researchers (the staff, the plastic surgery fellow, a medical scholar and various medical students) are optimizing nerve fusion conditions in the rat sciatic nerve model. To date their work has been nationally recognized in surgical as well as engineering fields and is rapidly approaching the stage of translation into humans under the circumstance of significant nerve damage.

Prospective and retrospective studies comprise the other one-third of the research effort.  A large volume of in-patient and out-patient visits provide ample populations to address emerging clinical questions arising from the ever expanding cadre of plastic surgeons with the Department. Plastic Surgery residents are encouraged to engage in clinical research projects during their 3 year tenure at Vanderbilt.  Research efforts are supported by an experience research coordinator Marcia Spear, DNP as well as the power of Vanderbilt’s research infrastructure which includes a premier electronic medical record (Star Panel), RedCap  (a database tracking and survey tool), a synthetic derivative of de-identified patients among other tools.   The Department of Plastic Surgery funds one full-time Plastic Surgery Research Fellow each year. Many of these research fellows have distinguished themselves nationally with awards. All have authored multiple basic and clinical manuscripts from their experience  in this research environment.

Contact Information:

Plastic Surgery Research Laboratory
Director Lillian B. Nanney, Ph.D.  lillian.nanney@vanderbilt.edu
S-2221 Medical Center North  Vanderbilt School of Medicine

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