Human Centered Design

Research Updates

As we pave the path forward towards the next era of surgical innovation, the division of research is poised to lead the charge. We are translating the latest developments, understanding and technology into improved surgical patient care resulting in shorter stays, enhanced post-operative quality of life and reduced overall healthcare cost to both patients and stakeholders.

The Department of Surgery had a very productive year. In FY21 our portfolio reached over $7 million in extramural funding, maintaining the significant increase we have seen year over year.

resident research activity

Human Centered Design Expands

The Human-Centered Design (HCD) Program led by David Mahvi, M.D., Michael Yost, Ph.D. and Joshua Kim, MS has been training surgical residents and medical students in design thinking, equipping them with the skillsets and tools to become medical innovators. Participants in the HCD program have worked on a variety of innovation projects since the program’s inception in the fall of 2019 and have recently created a medical device startup, Heartbeat Technologies, which is focused on improving CPR outcomes through the use of an innovative CPR adjunct device called The SAVER. The HCD Team won first place in the SC Innovates Competition and won an MUSC High Impact, High Innovation Award for The SAVER device. Recent partnerships and growth have connected the HCD team with Oklahoma State University and The Citadel. The Oklahoma State University collaboration saw a team of industrial design engineers work with Mahvi and Kim on creating solutions for improving operation room scheduling for the MUSC Department of Surgery. Collaborations with the Citadel involved working with the Baker School of Business Innovation Lab students, building a strong connection between business management andmedical innovation. Through collaboration with the Baker School of Business, the HCD Program, now an integral part of the Harvey and Marcia Schiller Surgical Innovation Center, aims to seamlessly integrate business development into the innovation workflow at MUSC.

Novel Molecule Protects and Repairs Cell Membranes on a Molecular Level

The Trauma and Acute Care Surgery Laboratory, led by Michael Yost, Ph.D., has developed a novel bioactive polymer that protects and repairs cell membranes on a molecular scale. Yost is working with colleagues across the state of South Carolina through the MADE in SC project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. They have simulated the polymer interaction with cell membranes using the super computer at Clemson University and collaborating with faculty and students at Furman University. This novel molecule has indications inburns, radiation exposure and ischemia reperfusion injury.

Investigating the Pathogenesis of Aortic Disease

The Cardiovascular Surgery Laboratory, led by Jeffrey Jones, Ph.D., is primarily focused on understanding the pathogenesis of aortic disease. Dr. Jones’ work has been directed toward understanding the roles played by various cell-types present in the thoracic aorta. It is generally understood that changes in cell behavior alter cellular responses to changes in general health, such as inflammation and high blood pressure. These changes in behavior cause the cells to produce harmful products that alter the structure of the vessel and lead to disease. The goal is to understand the signaling pathways that drive these changes and develop methods to correct them that can be used therapeutically to treat patients with aneurysms. Jean Marie Ruddy, M.D. and her team study similar types of responses and pathways within the abdominal aorta. Her studies are primarily directed toward interrupting the recruitment of specific blood cells to the dilated aortic wall. These blood cells play a critical role in changing the aortic structure and resident cellular function. The lab members maintain strong collaborations outside the laboratory and through collectively sharing their knowledge and experience, in the hopes to be able to translate their basic science discoveries into clinical strategies that address important clinical problems.

Research Drives Cures

Our scientists are at the forefront of cellular therapy research.


After a very promising first year of a clinical trial to study a therapeutic mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) infusion for treatment of type 1 diabetes, researcher Hongjun Wang, Ph.D., professor of Surgery and Center for Cellular Therapy (CCT) co-scientific director of Islet Processing and Stem Cell Therapy Programs, received full NIH renewal of the initial, contingent grant in April 2021, with an additional $3.2 million awarded for five more years. Wang, her clinical co-investigator Charlie Strange, M.D., and their teams have built an interlinked collaboration that allowed them to surpass the NIH’s enrollment requirements for a full grant extension. The full study will enroll 50 patients with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes. Wang’s hope is that the treatment will not only stop the immune attack of the pancreas that occurs with diabetes but also prevent the remaining cells from death, and potentially even regenerate cells. With these goals in mind, it is essential to intervene early after diagnosis to give the organ the best chance for healing, so the study is recruiting type 1 diabetes patients within three months of diagnosis. In addition, in FY 22, Hongjun Wang, Ph.D., Katy Morgan, M.D., Charlie Strange, M.D., William Lancaster, M.D., and Gary Gilkeson, M.D. were awarded a $3.2M grant by the NIDDK to enroll 42 chronic pancreatitis patients to assess the safety and efficacy of autologous bone marrow mesenchymal stromal cells and islet co-transplantation in chronic pancreatitis patients.


A new project led by Shikhar Mehrotra, Ph.D., co-scientific director of the CCT Oncology and Immunotherapy Programs, and Hollings hematologist and oncologist Brian Hess, M.D. could significantly decrease the side effects associated with CAR-T-cell therapy and make the treatment available to more patients who could benefit. The project involves manufacturing a “purified” version of the CAR-T-cells currently used to treat patients with certain types of lymphoma and leukemia to reduce the side effects associated with treatment and potentially make the treatment more effective. The therapy will be given to patients as part of a clinical trial, including lymphoma and leukemia patients who don’t currently have approval from the Food and Drug Administration to receive CAR-T-cells.