From Robots to Regrowing Bone, Physicians Take Surgery Where It’s Never Gone Before

By Koren Wetmore |

Do the words “medical research” conjure up a picture of university scientists hovering over test tubes? Maybe you envision clinical trials for new drugs happening in hospitals or doctors’ offices. You may be surprised to learn that at Keck Medicine of USC, doctors are using research to improve standards of care in a different setting: the operating room. USC surgeons are pushing the boundaries of their fields through groundbreaking procedures and scientific studies that could spur better treatments.

Some are pioneering techniques to remove cancer lodged in dangerous places. They’re also testing the use of new medical devices, including robots. Others are exploring the potential of gene therapy to spur the body to heal itself. At the same time, their colleagues are transforming the practice of organ transplantation.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the ways that Keck Medicine’s academic physicians are taking surgery where it has never gone before.


The patient needed help, and soon. A large cancerous tumor was growing from his right kidney upward into his heart. This tumor— what doctors call a stage IV tumor thrombus—traveled from the man’s kidney through his blood vessels. It grew into the inferior vena cava, the largest vein that returns blood to the heart, and then expanded into one of the heart’s main chambers.

Without surgery, the kidney cancer would continue to grow rapidly, and risked breaking off in the man’s heart or lungs at any time, causing instantaneous death.

To remove such tumors, surgeons typically have to open the entire chest and abdomen through a large incision. Patients usually need anywhere from 20 to 40 units of blood during the operation and, even as surgeons work to remove the tumor, tissue fragments might still enter the bloodstream and lodge in the heart or lungs.

There’s a 1 in 20 chance of dying during the procedure… 


Published in USC Trojan Family