Reid MacLellan, MD, MMSc
1. What was your light bulb moment / turning point into research?
Since I was a child, I’ve wanted to improve the lives of children with disfiguring conditions. My mother was both Drs. Frances “Tony” Marzoni and Luis Vasconez’s OR nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama and UAB so I grew up inundated with stories of how plastic surgeons positively affected a patient’s life. When I began my research fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital my plan was to matriculate into a plastic surgery residency program. However, during my time in the laboratory I “fell in love” with research and decided to pursue a research-focused career. I realized I can exponentially help patients through translational research. During my research fellowship, I was introduced to the fields of vascular anomalies and lymphedema by Dr. Arin Greene. I was deeply moved by the patients I met with these conditions. Compared to other pediatric plastic surgery diseases, these lesions were far more disfiguring and caused significant local and systemic complications. Unlike other conditions that could be definitively treated, neither vascular anomalies nor lymphedema often was curable – and they worsened over time. I decided that my long-term goal was to treat and study children with these disorders. I realized that through research I could help not only my patients, but also children who were being treated by others.
2. Who was your inspiration / mentor and how did they inspire you?
Because my long-term goal has always been to conduct translational, patient-oriented research, I elected to dedicate three years after my general surgery internship to pursue formal research training. I joined the Department of Plastic Surgery Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital under the mentorship of Arin Greene, MD, MMSc, because I was interested in broad training in the field of vascular anomalies. As an aspiring academic plastic surgeon and translational researcher, I also was inspired to work with Dr. Greene because I viewed him as a role model. We’ve had a very successful relationship that’s led to multiple publications and NIH grants. Dr. Greene currently serves as my mentor for my NIH K23 award.
3. What was the greatest challenge you encountered in your research career / research focus?
I believe the greatest challenge most researchers encounter is applying for and being awarded a grant. Most of us are required to obtain funding to continue performing research. I believe a lot of researchers become discouraged by the multiple rejections.
4. How do you balance being a surgeon and a scientist?
I am unique in the fact that 100% of my effort is dedicated to translational research. Unlike most surgeon-scientists who operate, I only see patients clinically one-half day per week. This affords me the opportunity to focus all of my effort on research.
5. What is the breakdown of your time?
I see vascular anomalies and lymphedema patients one-half day per week in clinic. The remainder of my time is dedicated to performing translational research on these individuals. I meet with members of my research team daily to discuss our experiments. During the work week when I am not in the clinic or the laboratory, I am normally in my office writing or analyzing data. Dr. Arin Greene and I meet most Saturday mornings to design future projects.
6. How often do you meet with your lab / research group?
Our department’s lab has a weekly joint meeting with one of my NIH K23 award’s co-mentors Dr. Joyce Bischoff. During this meeting a lab member will present his or her updated results. In addition, Dr. Arin Greene and I also have weekly meetings with our research team. I have an open door policy with my team, so I am constantly interacting with them throughout experiments.
7. How many times did you apply for the NIH grant (or other extramural funding) before successfully receiving the grant?
Before I applied for a NIH grant I earned a Master of Medical Sciences degree from Harvard Medical School. My thesis found that vascular anomalies uniquely express the receptor for follicle-stimulating hormone. This finding supported our hypothesis – that follicle-stimulating hormone may stimulate vascular anomalies (the hormone peaks during puberty when vascular anomalies are most likely to enlarge). Vascular anomalies are the only benign, pathologic tissue known to express this receptor (Maclellan et al., PRS 2014). The project was the basis of my National Endowment for Plastic Surgery grant that served as preliminary data for an NIH R21 award for Dr. Arin Greene, as well as being the subject of my NIH K23 award. Because of outstanding mentors I was fortunate enough to receive a NIH award after resubmitting my first application.
8. What research database do you use?
During my fellowship I created a database of all patients referred to the lymphedema program at Boston Children’s Hospital. I manage it on a weekly basis and the database has provided a great infrastructure to produce multiple outcome studies.
My research team also manages a vascular anomalies’ specimen database. Our lab banks a portion of each vascular anomaly excised at Boston Children’s Hospital in a bio repository. This system allows us the opportunity to perform basic science experiments.
9. Best research /career advice you received?
I have received countless recommendations from my mentors throughout my career. The best advice I have ever received came from Dr. Arin Greene. During my fellowship, I had many research interests. He recommended that I focus my effort on only two diseases. Through his guidance, I have centered my basic science research around the relationship between vascular anomalies and pubertal hormones and I focused a majority of my clinical research on lymphedema.
10. What advice do you have for early career scientists?
Always protect your research time. You may seem to have lots of free time when you are first beginning your career and thus accept non-research related activities. It is easy to become distracted by multiple responsibilities- it is critical to focus on your research to be a successful scientist.
11. How you have become successful?
Growing up my mother instilled in me a desire to work hard and strive for greatness. This work ethic provides me the opportunity to approach all obstacles from a positive and productive stance. In addition, I am fortunate to have had excellent mentors throughout my career. They have guided me through all of my major academic decisions.
12. What do you feel the PSRC represents to surgeon scientists?
I believe the PSRC represents inclusion of all researchers focused on plastic surgery. It is an excellent forum for young surgeon-scientists and investigators focused on plastic surgery to present their work and receive feedback from established plastic surgeons. All great plastic surgeons have a mentor that taught him and guided him. PSRC does an incredible job of creating interactions between young and established members through its Mentoring Program. They provide a conduit for mentorship to begin at an early stage in a surgeon-scientist’s career.
13. What do you do for fun / relaxation?
If I’m not in the laboratory, you can normally find me volunteering for an incredible non-profit organization called Above the Clouds. Our mission is to bring joy and hope to seriously ill, disabled and disadvantaged children and teens through the wonder of small aircraft flight. Many existing in-hospital programs are designed to alleviate the tedium of long hospital stays and difficult medical treatments and procedures. Above the Clouds complements these activities with a different approach that delivers a unique kind of medicine. Young patients eagerly look forward to completing their hospital stay/treatment and receiving clearance from their medical team to take off on a Dream Flight. They build anticipation and excitement for a special, joyful experience flying in the co-pilot’s seat of a small airplane. We provide Dream Flyers the ability to feel hopeful just when things might seem hopeless.