The Cardiovascular Research Program is a joint partnership between the Research Institute and the Heart Institute. The goal of the Cardiovascular Research Program is to support and advance the pediatric and adult cardiac and vascular programs through basic and applied research activities. The basic science research activities take place in the laboratories on the fourth floor of The Saban Research Institute. The clinical research is carried out at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and in the laboratories at the USC Health Science Campus (HSC).

Residents have the option to spend one year (or more in selected circumstances) to conduct basic science and/or clinical research in any surgical specialty. Most residents elect to spend dedicated time outside of the residency to participate in full-time research, typically following the PGY-3 year. This dedicated research time is encouraged, but it is not mandatory. The type of research, location and funding is left to the discretion of the resident. However, there are opportunities to obtain internal funding from the department to facilitate this process. Additionally, there are ample opportunities to participate in clinical or translational research while engaged in the clinical rotations of the residency. Residents are encouraged to submit their research to meetings and will receive the necessary support to present their work. Previous residents have used this time to obtain advanced degrees such as an MBA or even a PhD. Other residents have pursued a critical care fellowship. The research period can be tailored to the specific professional needs of the individual.

Cardiothoracic Surgery

Heart Valves – both for minimally invasive and open surgeries
Thoracic Aortic Stents
Atrial Fibrillation
Monitoring devices
Cardiac support

Colorectal Surgery

Bowel function recovery
Anastomosis protection
Biomarkers of colon cancer

Gastrointestinal Surgery

Management of GERD
Control of diabetes type 2
Devices to control reflux

Hepatobiliary Surgery and Abdominal Organ Transplantation

New immunosuppression agents and strategies
Biomarkers of rejection
Alcoholic liver disease
Hepatic regeneration
Hemostatic agents
Highly sensitized patients

Intensive Care Unit

Respiratory infections

Vascular Surgery

Aortic and peripheral vascular stents
Management of carotid artery disease
Management strategies in the presence of frailty
Limb salvage
Wound management

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Scar minimization
Grafting for burns
Post burn rehabilitation

Heart Valve Research

Historically, the main activities of the Heart Valve Laboratory have been the study the structure and function relationship of heart valve tissues.

Previous approaches to studying heart valve biomechanics have included:

  • Selective enzymatic digestion and biomechanical testing
  • Materials testing and constitutive modeling
  • Histologic and electron microscopy

New areas of investigation have built upon this basic understanding of valve function. The group has explored computational modeling as a tool for the study of soft tissue biomechanics, and tissue engineering as a means of fabricating the complex biological structures directly in the laboratory.

Also notable has been the work towards developing tissue-engineered heart valves, using the biological materials found in the natural tissues — elastin, collagen and glycosaminoglycans. These molecules can be synthesized by cells in culture or purified from tissues, then manipulated to mimic the normal structural framework of the aortic valve. This approach is particularly relevant to connective tissues that have limited ability for self-repair, like the cardiac valves.


Organs derived from pigs (xenografts) represent a solution to the severe organ shortage that currently plagues human organ transplantation. The Xenotransplantation Laboratory, led by Mary Kearns-Jonker, PhD, is studying the immunology of xenograft rejection and the application of gene therapy to induce transplantation tolerance.

Ongoing research projects include:

  • Analysis of immunoglobulin genes used by organ recipients to target transplanted xenografts
  • Analysis of the molecular structure of xenoantibody-antigen binding, making use of site-directed mutagenesis and computer modeling
  • Development of treatment strategies to prevent graft rejection, including the application of anti-idiotypic antibodies and small molecular inhibitors designed to specifically target the xenoantibody binding site
  • The application of gene therapy to induce transplant tolerance

Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Autograft Fibrosis

Chronic rejection is a serious complication of organ transplantation, even in the presence of immunosuppression. Chronic rejection typically results in fibrosis of the graft — the laying down of excess extra cellular matrix until the organ becomes dysfunctional. Despite the widely appreciated magnitude of the problem and the numerous research efforts to control it, effective therapies to control allograft fibrosis are lacking. Fibroblasts are the sole cell type that forms the scar tissue that eventually leads to the dysfunction of the transplanted organs. The mechanisms that control the recruitment, differentiation and proliferation of intragraft fibroblasts are poorly understood. Recent data have suggested that proliferating intragraft fibroblasts are derived from transplant recipients. New findings indicate that mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) play an important role in the development of allograft fibrosis. The long-term goals of the research program are to apply genetic and cellular therapies for chronic rejection of solid organ transplants.