The Section of Surgical Sciences

Research Legacy


Surgical Research at Vanderbilt Medical Center

Research has been an important component of the Vanderbilt Department of Surgery since its inception. Before coming to Vanderbilt, Barney Brooks, M.D., the first chairman of the Department of Surgery, established a surgical pathology laboratory at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. When he became chairman of the Vanderbilt Department of Surgery in 1925, he established the first surgical research laboratory at Vanderbilt. His first surgical resident, Alfred Blalock, M.D., with able assistance from Vivien Thomas*, conducted experiments on hypovolemic shock and developed procedures he later used in the Blalock-Tausig shunt procedure for treatment of tetralogy of Fallot. In 1952 Vanderbilt surgical research received generous endowment from S. Rudolph Light, M.D., a graduate of the Vanderbilt Surgical Residency Program, and later Vanderbilt faculty member. The S. Rudolph Light Laboratory for Surgical Research is a core facility where investigators from each of the departments and divisions have access to bench space as well as shared facilities and staff.

In 1974-1975 the Department of Surgery reorganized to become part of the Section of Surgical Sciences. At that time a number of surgical specialties which had been divisions within the Department of Surgery became separate departments within the Section of Surgical Sciences. Acknowledging increased specialization but equally the value of retaining shared facilities, they continue to use the Light Laboratory core facilities. Overall laboratory space has increased to 22,000 square feet, 5,400 of which are for laboratory core support and ancillary facilities.

Research efforts were rewarding throughout the decade of the 1990s and beyond. In 1994 the total direct federal, foundation and industry funding for the Department of Surgery alone increased from less than $1 million to $4 million. For 2002, the Section of Surgical Sciences had $22.5 million funded project dollars, with $11.6 million of that within the Department of Surgery. Since Dr. Beauchamp assumed the leadership of the Section in July 2001, building on the leadership of Dr. O'Neill during the HMO-dominated 1990s, the Section has recruited thirty-five new faculty members. One of them is Jim Goldenring, M.D., Ph.D., who became vice chairman for Surgical Research in 2002. Dr. Goldenring is a 2004 Funderburg award recipient. Research programs in the Section of Surgical Sciences are thriving and span the basic sciences, translational research, clinical therapeutic research, and clinical outcomes research.

Opportunities for Surgical Research in Resident Education

Following the third year of surgical residency, most Vanderbilt residents go into the surgical research lab. The opportunity for 1 to 2 years of in-depth research is available and is required for most of those without extensive prior experience. A Ph.D. program is offered in a number of the basic science departments, as well as other educational programs including the Masters in Public Health program, the Clinical Scholars Program (MS), and the Masters of Business Administration.

Research facilities are available for residents at S. R. Light laboratory for Surgical Research, located in Medical Center North, and the Nashville Veterans Affairs surgical research laboratories nearby.

* The long collaborative relationship of Thomas and Blalock is the subject of a recent film, Partners of the Heart.

This page was last updated September 19, 2011 and is maintained by