Department of Surgery

Resident Research

PGY1 – PGY2 Research Program

In order to jump start residents' research experience, our general surgery residency program has built in a research rotation into both the first and second years. Residents will find clinical projects and a faculty member to aid them in the process. This also functions as time for residents to start planning out their research years, which begin after their third clinical year. 

Our current residents are working on the following research projects:


Mitchell Dyer

Mitchell Dyer is currently spending his research years under the mentorship of Drs. Brian Zuckerbraun and Matthew Neal. He is interested in translational research on thrombosis and hemostasis. His projects explore the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of deep venous thrombosis, as well as the hemostatic potential of a platelet-mimitic nanoparticle in hemorrhage. In addition to conducting basic science projects, he has recently enrolled in the Masters of Clinical Research program at the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Clinical Research Education.

John Griepentrog

John Griepentrog is interested in using different wavelengths of light to augment the circadian control of innate immunity, which can be responsible for organ injury. He is investigating the effects of high intensity blue light on lung and myocardial damage using infectious and ischemic murine models. A deeper understanding of these mechanisms will lead to clinical studies on patients with various pulmonary and cardiac pathologies. 

Julie Goswami

Julie Goswami is currently working with Dr. David Geller in the UPMC Liver Cancer Center. Her main projects investigate the interactions between innate immunity and coagulation after liver ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) and how these interactions lead to the development of metastatic disease. She is working both with a murine model and with patient samples to determine which interventions may be able to prevent the systemic effects of liver I/R. 

Robert Handzel

Robert Handzel is currently spending his research years pursuing  board certification in clinical informatics and a master’s in biomedical informatics. He is specifically interested in ways to use our current electronic system to aid health care providers and improve patient outcomes.

Katherine Kirk

Katherine Kirk is currently completing a master’s degree in medical education with the intent to utilize these skills in surgical training programs in low- and middle- income countries. Her academic plans include an extended on-site research effort within a surgical residency in rural Kenya after completion of her additional degree.

Stacy Kowalsky

Stacy Kowalsky is currently spending her research time optimizing the anti-tumor effects of oncolytic vaccinia virus therapy by investigating viruses armed with immune-stimulating compounds to help harness the immune system in tumor eradication.  She is also investigating strategies to help improve the efficacy of intravenous viral administration and enhance viral delivery to tumor tissue.  

Christine Leeper

Christine Leeper conducts research in the department of Pediatric Trauma, General and Thoracic Surgery at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh under the mentorship of Dr. Barbara Gaines. Her primary interest is in acute traumatic coagulopathy and the systemic homeostatic disruptions after injury in children. She has also completed a Master of Science in Clinical Research through the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Clinical Research Education.

Anthony Lewis

Anthony Lewis is interested in translational sepsis research emphasizing the mechanisms of innate immunity and organ injury, techniques of early diagnosis and resuscitation, and the development of more clinically relevant animal models for the investigation of sepsis. He is particularly interested in novel mechanisms, strategies, and therapeutics to improve the morbidity and mortality outcomes of sepsis. In addition to his laboratory research, he is currently enrolled in the Masters of Clinical Research program at the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Clinical Research Education.

Frances Okolo

Frances Okolo is spending her research years in Dr. Potoka's lab, working on discovering and improving the pulmonary vascular biology of patients with congenital diaphragmatic hernia using intra-amniotic (IA) sildenafil. She is currently using a mouse model to determine the expression patterns of markers of vascular smooth muscle differentiation and the effect of IA sildenafil on the signaling pathways involved in pulmonary vascular maturation. 

Shaun Siow

Shaun Siow is currently pursuing basic science research within the Department of Pediatric and Thoracic Surgery at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. His interests are related to the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease, specifically the role of mitochondrial DNA and the mechanism by which it contributes to the activation of the innate immune response via DNA-sensing receptors. 

Vernissia Tam

Vernissia Tam is conducting clinical outcomes research within the department's Surgical Oncology Services. Specifically, she is comparing patient-reported outcomes (PROMs) following robotic versus open pancreas surgery, including functional recovery, quality of life, and satisfaction. She was awarded a research grant from the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) to carry out her research protocol. In addition, she is enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Clinical Research Education as a student pursuing a Masters in Clinical Research.

Crisanto Torres

Crisanto Torres is currently spending his research years in Dr. Badylak's lab at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine looking at the tissue-specific effects of the extracellular matrix on adult intestinal stem cells for the development of an implanted biomaterial to promote in-situ intestinal constructive regeneration.

Dirk van der Windt

Dirk van der Windt is conducting basic science research in the laboratory for hepatobiliary diseases, where he studies the effects of liver sterile inflammation (from ischemia and reperfusion injury during liver resection, and from non-alcoholic steatohepatitis) on the development and progression of hepatocellular carcinoma and metastatic cancer in the liver. He is investigating how inflammation, in particular the role of neutrophils, affects anti-tumor immunity in the liver microenvironment.