Pediatric Surgery Research

Faculty in the division of Pediatric Surgery, including designated surgeon-scientists, engage in a wide range of innovative projects designed to improve the health and care of our pediatric population. They are especially dedicated to multidisciplinary research and collaborate with numerous groups locally and nationally.

Surgeon-in-Chief, Marleta Reynolds, MD, heads the Department of Surgery in research initiatives and the implementation of the hospital’s strategic vision. Her leadership has fostered a research culture in the department, expanding efforts beyond the laboratory and towards clinical and translational research. She has led the department in joining pediatric NSQIP to obtain data that has driven safety and quality improvement projects in the department, establishing the Surgery Safety and Quality Committee, and the initiation of a surgeon-scientist program guaranteeing protected time for research activities. Her efforts have led to the implementation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Surgical Safety Checklist that has shown to have significantly and positively affected the safety culture in the operating room and patient morbidity in an internally conducted study.

Dr. Reynolds’s extensive background in research is exemplified by numerous publications with special interests in developmental anomalies of the lung, diaphragm, intestines and abdominal wall, surgery for cancer, and heart/lung bypass support (ECMO). Her recent efforts focus on interdisciplinary research, collaboration with several tertiary pediatric institutions, projects that allow measurement of performance and results, and advancement of quality and safety of care for all children. Currently, she is investigating the usefulness of a novel technology, the white light scanner, in the assessment and long-term monitoring of patients with pectus excavatum and pectus carinatum. The white light scanner is non-invasive, painless and emits only minimal radiation. Results of this study could influence how children with pectus conditions are followed over time, reducing the need for x-ray exposure to assess these patients.


Katherine Barsness, MD, focuses on research for the advancement of surgical skills, curriculum design, pediatric surgical training, and minimally invasive surgical techniques for infants and children. A recognized leader in pediatric surgical education, both in the U.S. and abroad, Dr. Barsness has received numerous teaching awards throughout her career. Dr. Barsness serves as Director of Surgical Simulation and Associate Director of Clinical and Translational Research for the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Lurie Children’s. Her recent efforts include the advancement of medical training for pediatric surgeons to learn how to perform rare procedures. Specific initiatives include the development of 3-D printed hearts modelled on imaging of pediatric congenital heart defects and the development of a high fidelity tracheoesophageal fistula repair simulator. Dr. Barsness has received nearly $300,000 in grants from the Manne Research Institute, Feinberg School of Medicine and the Children's Surgical Foundation for her research into the clinical use of 3-D anatomical models.


The basic science laboratory of Mary Beth Madonna, MD, investigates whether long-term doxorubicin treatment expands neuroblastoma cells with cancer stem cell characteristics and if histone acetylation affects stemness gene expression during the development of drug resistance.

Dr. Madonna leads the CHAAMPS (Colorectal conditions, Hirschsprung’s disease, Anorectal malformations and Associated spinal cord anomalies, Managed by Pediatric Surgery) bowel management program at Lurie Children's. Since 2009, the Division of Pediatric Surgery at Lurie Children’s has offered this organized program to deliver comprehensive, interdisciplinary treatment for children with severe cases of fecal incontinence and chronic constipation from initial intervention to long-term management. Dr. Madonna’s recent efforts have expanded into outcomes research involving her patients in this program.


Primary areas of scientific interest for Catherine Hunter, MD, are necrotizing enterocolitis, inflammatory bowel disorders and intestinal sepsis. Using a broad range of advanced research techniques, and local and national collaborations, Dr. Hunter’s laboratory investigates the cellular mechanisms underlying these disorders, with the goal of finding new therapeutic strategies. Dr. Hunter maintains an active research mentorship program where she facilitates the research development of undergraduates, general surgery residents and neonatology fellows. She has received approximately $600,000 in intra- and extra- mural grants and awards, including most recently, the Research Scholar Award from the American Gastroenterological Association, and the Claude H. Organ Award from the American College of Surgeons. In addition to her basic science interests, Dr. Hunter is actively involved in a number of clinical studies including determining and improving the outcomes of gastroschisis, intussusception and pediatric trauma. 


Anthony Chin, MD, continues to contribute with original articles, case reports, reviews, book chapters and frequently present his findings at national and international conferences. He has been the lead, corresponding or co-author of numerous peer-reviewed publications, abstracts and book chapters. His current research interests include the application of minimally invasive techniques, management of critically ill pediatric patients and the role of various diagnostic techniques in the management of subspecialty patients.

Dr. Chin’s research advocates for the use of delayed repeated enema following unsuccessful primary enema for intussusception, which has resulted in the adoption of a new protocol for the reduction of intussusceptions at our institution. His findings have also led to the development of a better scoring system to assess the severity of illness for pediatric patients with acute pancreatitis, and have allowed us to report a large multi-institutional experience in the management of patients with 46 XX cloacal extrophy.

Dr. Chin’s interest in ECMO has opened collaboration with other members of the critical care team with the publication Nonconvulsive Seizures are common in Children Treated with Extracorporeal Life Support. As recognition for these efforts, Dr. Chin has been invited to be a reviewer in a number of peer-reviewed journals including: World Journal of Pediatrics; Journal of Pediatric Surgery; Journal of Laparoscopy and Surgical Techniques; and Pediatric Radiology.


Rashmi Kabre, MD, spearheads the division’s collaborations with the MWPSC (Midwest Pediatric Surgical Consortium Current Consortium). Her projects include a registry of patients with trachea-esophageal fistula and an examination of pneumothorax treatment protocols. The large size of the consortium (11 institutions) allows for greater understanding of rare diseases and more generalizable results. Most recently, Dr. Kabre has facilitated this collaboration initiating the Multi-Institutional Trial of Non-operative Management of Appendicitis at Lurie Children's. The results of this study may provide evidence for the treatment of certain cases of appendicitis without any invasive surgical intervention.


As a member of the IRB, Erin Rowell, MD, works with scientific experts from other departments of the hospital, non-scientists and non-affiliated community members to judge whether proposed research projects sufficiently safeguard the welfare of human participants. In addition, Dr. Rowell initiates many of her own research projects, including investigations into pediatric surgical emergencies, fetal anomalies and prenatal consulting. Recently, WGN-TV featured Dr. Rowell and her cutting edge work with Lurie Children’s oncofertility program.


We are pleased to welcome Julia Grabowski, MD, to the Pediatric Surgery team at Lurie Children's. A member of APSA Outcomes and Evidence-based Practice Committee and Vice Chair of the APSA Survey Subcommittee, Dr. Grabowski is an experienced researcher with a primary interest in patient outcomes. Both nationally and internationally, Dr. Grabowski regularly presents on an extensive range of topics, including adolescent breast disease, ovarian masses, spontaneous pneumothorax, appendicitis and pediatric trauma. She has hit the ground running at Lurie Children’s, with a brand new study already approved and underway. Most recently, Dr. Grabowski has become a member of the Lurie Children’s Institutional Review Board.


Review the list below to learn more about our researchers.


Dr. Hunter Makes Strides in NEC Research

Catherine Hunter, MD, runs one of the few labs researching necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, a potentially deadly disease that affects premature newborns. NEC is still poorly understood, though Dr. Hunter's recent findings are helping put together the pieces of the "complex puzzle" that is NEC.

Learn more.