Patients worldwide who are faced with a potential amputation may soon have plastic surgeon Frank Lau, M.D., and his research team at LSU to thank for saving their limb.
Dr. Lau developed a tissue engineering-based approach to limb salvage using special tissues that recruit the body’s stem cells to critical wounds. This technique improves healing and reduces risks for patients. LSU is currently running a clinical trial for Louisiana patients and has partnered with Walter Reed Medical Center to further develop this technique for wounded soldiers.
“We’ve treated about 40 patients with this procedure now, and we’re seeing incredible results,” Dr. Lau says. “With more success, we can prevent a lot more amputations for patients with a lot lower cost and lower risk as well.”
The trial is only one of up to eight that LSU Plastic Surgery has going on at any given time. One of their newest and biggest trials, in collaboration with 10 other major medical centers around the country, involves cutting-edge breast reconstruction products.
“To be involved in national trials of this caliber attests to the growing strength of our faculty and program,” Dr. Lau says.
Research expansion since he’s arrived at LSU has been exponential and multidisciplinary — as has his patient load. To facilitate the growth, Dr. Lau just opened an office in Metairie, and the department moved to the main St. Charles campus in order to collaborate more closely with other LSU branches of medicine.
Between seeing patients, teaching residents, conducting research and traveling to present findings, Dr. Lau packs a lot into each of his days. He is clinically active three and a half days per week, performing reconstructive surgery on 65 percent of his patients and cosmetic surgery for the rest. He performs tummy tucks, breast augmentations, breast reductions, and face and neck lifts. What sets him apart is his emphasis on patient safety.
“These are elective, high-end procedures,” he says. “My team and I work diligently to make sure our patients have the absolute best outcomes possible. In that regard, we evaluate the patient holistically to make sure they have a smooth, easy experience from beginning to end.”
As for academics, the junior doctors Dr. Lau teaches are among the brightest in the world; LSU receives more than 800 applications annually for two residency spots.
“Almost everything I do involves teaching, and that’s one of my favorite parts of the job,” Dr. Lau says. “There’s little not to love. The opportunity, the culture and the resources presented by the medical school are really unparalleled in my opinion. I’ve spoken with many of my peers from training and only two or three remained happy with their first jobs. For me, this was and still remains a dream job. I’ve been extremely fortunate in that regard.”
Motivation for medicine: “When I was a child, my younger sister was quite sick [with gastrointestinal allergies],” Dr. Lau says. “We went to many different doctors and no one was able to help until we finally found one doctor who cured her. I’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since. I enjoy working with my hands and seeing the direct result of my work, so I knew I wanted to be a surgeon as well.”
The research piece: “In my third month at the University of Michigan medical school, I got roped in to research,” he says. “It lit a fire under me and I haven’t looked back. I get to do and see things no one has ever seen. That thrill of discovery is incredible.”
Most gratifying work: Dr. Lau says that poor surgical results that end in amputation can take a toll on a surgeon. That’s why tissue-engineering limb salvage has been such an exciting innovation. “As an analogy, it’s like going from high-risk, open-heart surgery to doing a stent. To be able to develop a technology like that is incredibly gratifying because it benefits everyone: patients; physicians; families; and the healthcare system.”
Biggest success story: After a 14-year-old rolled his golf cart and Dr. Lau saved his leg (the boy is back to playing Varsity tennis and sailing), the boy’s neighbor heard of the heroics and came to see Dr. Lau with a massive leg injury that wouldn’t heal. “To save both boys’ legs was pretty incredible,” he says. “The most important thing is to have a genuine passion in what you’re doing. If I didn’t, I don’t think there would be any way I could tackle all my work. It excites me at a fundamental level.”
Medical School: University of Michigan
Internship and Residency: Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Mass.
Fellowship: Harvard University Center for Regenerative Medicine
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