The Cutting Edge

Mackinnon lab: Bedside to bench, and back to bedside Read More

The following is an excerpt from the Washington University in St. Louis Outlook Magazine.  For the complete story, click here.


The past 40 years has seen a revolution in the treatment of injuries to peripheral nerves. Arms and legs, hands and feet rely on peripheral nerves to function and feel, and a few surgical specialists across the country have devoted their careers to fixing these delicate white fibers when they are damaged or broken. And behind the scenes, informing all of this surgical work, is the laboratory.

“Every question that comes up in the clinic, we have looked at in the laboratory,” says Susan E. Mackinnon, MD, the Shoenberg Professor and chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “We bring the answers we discover in the lab back to the clinic and the operating room.”

Over three decades, this flow of information between laboratory, clinic and OR has led to huge shifts in the understanding of nerve injury and regeneration. Limbs that might once have been amputated can be saved: A patient’s own healthy nerves can be rerouted into a damaged limb, and nerves from a cadaver can be transplanted while minimizing risk of rejection.

A major figure in this work is Daniel A. Hunter, senior scientist in Mackinnon’s lab and an expert in the microscopic analysis of nerves. Mackinnon calls Hunter’s work an integral part of her surgical practice.

“Dan has devoted his life to quantifying nerve regeneration and developed his own unique techniques to measure what we see under the microscope,” Mackinnon says. “He can make the visual images of nerves — and they’re beautiful images — into actual numerical results. So you can compare different strategies for treating nerve injury in a very scientific way.”

For more from the WUSTL Outlook Magazine, click here.

Posted on February 14, 2012
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