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Advancing Research in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Two docs in Orthopedic surgery performing a knee surgery on a patient

Each day, faculty of the Saint Louis University School of Medicine work to advance the University’s research initiatives and contribute to the greater scientific community. For Howard M. Place, M.D., professor and chairman of orthopaedic surgery, strengthening SLU’s orthopaedic research has been critical to the success of the department. 

A graduate of the the School of Medicine Class of 1983, Dr. Place served in the U.S. Army for twelve years before returning to SLU in 1997 and joining the department of orthopaedic surgery. “At the time, there wasn’t a lot of research being done by senior residents and faculty,” recalls Place. “We did a lot of retrospective research and projects that could be completed within a year.” 

Over the past few decades, the orthopaedic department has mirrored SLU’s commitment to furthering the depth and breadth of its research initiatives—all in the pursuit of furthering scientific advancement and advancing public health. 

Creating New Patient Outcomes

Headshot of Dr. Howard Place
Howard Place, M.D. Chairman of Orthopedic Surgery

Dr. Place and his colleagues have been instrumental in paving the path for increased research activity in the department of orthopaedics—and thanks to his commitment, exciting new projects are underway. 

One recent transformation shift in the department of orthopaedics is the implementation of patient-reported outcomes, an initiative led by Scott Kaar, M.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery. “Dr. Kaar has always wanted to use patient-reported outcomes to help us figure out not just how a treatment looks—but how patients are doing after their treatment,” says Place. 

The program officially launched in August 2022 and provides the orthopaedic department an opportunity to assess the entire person after surgery. “Now, every person who comes into orthopaedics fills out a patient-reported outcome survey,” says Place. “It allows us to ask, ‘How are you really doing?’"

Orthopaedic Research at Work 

In addition to the implementation of patient-reported outcomes, Place is collaborating with his colleagues to facilitate new research developments—including Vikas Dhawan, M.D., Gary Bledsoe, Ph.D., and Ashley Ali, M.D.

Dr. Dhawan, associate professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery, is studying how to prevent the formation of neuroma after a nerve has been cut. This research will be critical for those who have had a traumatic amputation—and particularly relevant for military doctors.

Dr. Bledsoe, director of the School of Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering, has partnered with Place and his colleagues, combining artificial intelligence (AI) and spinal health. “We’re using AI to identify spinal implants—so that it makes the next surgical procedure easier to perform,” says Place. 

Dr. Ali, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, is currently delving into two projects: “One is a basic science project with biomedical engineering and the second is a project with physical therapy,” says Place. 

Establishing Legacy 

As Dr. Place’s new research program continues to take root, the orthopaedic department is expanding SLU’s footprint in the field. “I have two residents who just won recognition for their presentations and papers at the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) and the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) at Washington University,” says Place. 

Building this infrastructure for the research program is Place’s top priority. Achieving his goals requires financial investment—made possible by the generous support of donors.

“Research in SLU Orthopedics has a renewed energy at the present time. We’re seeing more projects blossoming and we have a commitment of manpower,” Place says. “We have great faculty members with great ideas. I’m really fortunate.”