RM: Why do you think it’s important to be a surgeon-scientist?
Leckenby: As surgeon-scientists, we have the opportunity to be involved in each step relating to scientific discovery that starts at the bench-side in the laboratory and ends with improving patient care clinically at the bedside. As a surgeon, we offer a different perspective due to the hands-on nature of our work that often brings new approaches to problem solving. Having the scientific training allows us to critically evaluate the research question and develop rigorous methodology to efficiently answer the question being posed.
RM: Tell us about your current research-related activity.
Leckenby: My lab primarily focuses on two specific research areas:
- Improving outcomes and preventing injuries to the peripheral nervous system. As a plastic surgeon, I encounter patients that require reconstruction of both form and function. In my field, peripheral nerve injuries may be a consequence of injury or due to unwanted side-effects of treatment, such as chemotherapy for cancer. We are taking two approaches to improving the outcomes of these patients through preventing the formation of a scar in the injured nerve and preventing damage to the insulation of nerve fibers by preventing myelin damage.
- Understanding the immuno-genomics associated with the rejection of vascularized composite allotransplantations, such as face or hand transplantations. These transplants are made multiple tissue types, of which the skin is the most sensitive to rejection. There are a very small number of available donors, particularly due to the importance of matching skin color and size that solid organs do not necessarily encounter. We are currently exploring genetic factors that may make an individual more susceptible to rejecting their transplant sooner than others, which, in the setting of face transplantation, is catastrophic.