Gregory Borschel, MD, is the James Harbaugh, Jr. Professor of Plastic Surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Surgery and the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Riley Hospital for Children. His practice focuses on pediatric nerve injuries, corneal neurotization, facial paralysis, congenital hand surgery, and microvascular reconstruction. Borschel's research looks into developing treatments for nerve injuries and improving patient outcomes. He works with neuroscientists, engineers, and doctors worldwide to improve treatments for patients with these conditions.
Borschel graduated from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1997 and completed a residency in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Michigan in 2005. He completed a two-year postdoctoral research fellowship in neuromuscular tissue engineering at the University of Michigan and a fellowship in Pediatric Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada.
He has published over 130 original peer-reviewed publications, four textbooks in Plastic Surgery, and dozens of book chapters. Borschel served as primary supervisor for dozens of Master's students, PhD students, and postdoctoral fellows in nerve regeneration research.
We sat down with Dr. Borschel to discuss continuing this standard for excellence at IU School of Medicine.
As a researcher and clinician, you will be working a lot with the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering. How do you think this expertise will help drive your current research?
One thing that's critical with any research environment is the people—their particular backgrounds and interests. Often advances are made at the intersection of disciplines. My laboratory includes basic scientists, neuroscientists, and biomedical engineers. We also have people with clinical experiences, and sometimes we have people with mixed backgrounds. In a place like the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering, they really get it—if you're going to make contributions in this field, you have to have input from all of these contributors. It's critical to have many people pulling together from different backgrounds interested in the same or similar problems. We have been fortunate to have made some key developments because of our diverse backgrounds.
What do you enjoy about being an educator for future scientists and clinicians?
There has never been a better time to be a surgeon or a scientist. Particularly for those entering research and clinical training now, the future has never been brighter. I enjoy helping new scientists and clinicians develop their energy and interests as they become leaders in their respective fields. In my lab in Toronto, I was fortunate to have several dozen trainees come through as grad students and postdocs. They came from many different backgrounds, such as surgical residents, individuals with basic science background Master's degrees, PhD degrees, postdoctoral research fellows, and others with engineering backgrounds.
What is the research you are currently working on?
We are currently working on two main projects. In one, we are asking what are the main causes of neurotrophic keratopathy -- the result of denervation of the cornea? These patients cannot feel the surface of the eye, and so they go blind due to ulceration and scarring of the cornea. This process can be halted by introducing new sensory nerve axons into the cornea. We do this for both children and adults, from all causes – developmental anomalies, tumors, trauma and infections. Now in the laboratory we are trying to determine the roles of all the cell types involved in this process, including neurons, their axons, Schwann cells and stems cells. The hope is that we can restore vision, or even prevent blindness in affected patients by completely understanding this condition and its surgical treatment.
In another project, we are developing biomaterials for local delivery of therapeutic agents to enhance nerve regeneration following nerve injuries. This research has the potential for use during surgery to improve outcomes for patients that have sustained injuries to their nerves for whatever reason. Our data so far indicate that such a strategy can double the number of neurons that reach their targets after such therapy. We are now developing additional ways to boost that effect even further.