Surgical Research

Surgery produces many lifesaving and life-changing results. Historically, the Surgical Research Group developed as the research arm of the surgeons. The team works mostly with surgeons who operate on the abdominal organs – the urinary tract, reproductive organs and gastrointestinal tract. It investigates defects in these organs and ways to improve treatment.

The major areas of study include urogenital defects, including undescended testis, a condition which occurs in five per cent of boys. The group also studies ambiguous genitalia. Anatomical abnormalities of genitals occur in one in 2000 to 5000 children, but even though rare, have a major impact on affected infants and the society as a whole. Penile development is the third area of urogenital defects under investigation.

Gastrointestinal defects studied include intestinal dysmotility such as chronic constipation and anorectal malformations which can block to the bowel. The group’s research also involves reviewing surgical outcomes in the hospital.

Group Leaders: 
Group Members: 
Shirley D'Cruz
Role: 
Personal Assistant
Ruili Li
Role: 
Senior Scientist
Amanda Vannitamby
Role: 
Research Assistant
Dr Sebastian King
Role: 
Senior Research Officer
Kyla Dobson
Role: 
Research Nurse
Julie Jordan-Ely
Role: 
Research Nurse
Pam Farmer
Role: 
Research Assistant (Casual)
Lefteris Stathopoulos
Role: 
Visiting Fellow
Cynthia Longmire
Role: 
Volunteer
Andre Tan
Role: 
PhD Student
Jaya Vikraman
Role: 
Masters Student
Sarah Yue
Role: 
Honours Student
Lauren Dughetti
Role: 
Honours Student
Mary Cousinery
Role: 
Honours Student
Lefteris Stathopoulos
Role: 
Visiting Fellow

Chronic constipation can be present from birth or develop during childhood. The researchers have developed methods to follow transit through the intestine to classify the types of defects and target new treatments.

The group is pioneering the use of a physiotherapy method giving small electrical pulses through electrodes on the belly and back to treat chronic constipation.

Nervous control of the intestine is very complex. The intestine has its own nerve cells (the enteric neurons) and connections to the spinal cord and brain. The researchers are determining which nerves are affected in chronic constipation.

Molecules involved in movement of the gubernaculum in testicular descent

Development of germ cells in descended and undescended testis
Surgery to pull the testis down is the most common operation performed in children. Undescended testes are infertile and develop cancer. The group’s studies focus on the molecules that control testicular descent and development. Professor John Hutson is a world leader in this area.

Effect of transcutaneous electrical stimulation on defecation in chronic constipation
This is a clinical trial on children with longstanding constipation.

Mode of action of transcutaneous electrical stimulation to activate the intestine
Studies in animals.

Classifying different types of intestinal motility using nuclear transit studies
We have over 1000 cases in our database.

The role of food intolerance in chronic constipation
Food exclusion is being trialled to treat some forms of constipation.

Funding: 
Collaborations: 
  • University of Melbourne Department of Paediatrics
  • Department of Gastroenterology and Nutrition, RCH
  • Prof Mark Fox, University Teaching Hospital, Zurich Switzerland.
  • Prof Helena Parkington, Department of Physiology, Monash University.
  • A/Prof Don Newgreen
  • David Fisher, Brandon Capital and GI Therapies.
  • Prof Joergen Thorup, Children’s Hospital, Copenhagen
  • Prof Gail Risbridger, Anatomy & Cell Biology, Monash Uni
  • Prof Gerry Cunha, UCSF, California, USA
  • Prof Larry Baskin, UCSF, California, USA
  • Dr Andrew Pask, Zoology Dept., Uni Melb