Surgery Research

Source:  University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections

History of Research in the Department of Surgery

The modern era of research in the Department began with the appointment of Dr. Colin Ferguson as Professor and Head of the Department in 1953. As part of his McGill University surgical residency training he was appointed the Harrison Fellow in Surgical Research at the University of Pennsylvania. From 1948-49 he worked under the tutelage of Dr. Isador S. Ravdin, who would in later years become the President of the American College of Surgeons. Following additional Pediatric surgery training at Harvard University Ferguson returned to Winnipeg to serve as the first full-time Head of Surgery. Having witnessed academic surgery in some of the premier institutions of the day, he arrived here with very high ideals.  

Early in his tenure Ferguson obtained funding and secured space to establish a surgical research laboratory at the Medical College. He focused on the new and exciting field of cardiac surgery and had a specific interest in developing clinical extra-corporeal circulation. Dr. Walter Zingg was appointed as the first Director of Research and their personal efforts centered around circulatory support systems. Many others joined the effort including, notably Dr. Israel Penn who was interested in liver transplantation. Others did work in vascular surgery, plastic surgery, orthopedic joint replacement, and gastrointestinal physiology.  

In 1969 the Department Head position passed on to Dr. James Lind. Lind had been appointed to the Department by Ferguson. Lind and Dr. Jack Hildes, the latter a gastroenterologist, advanced the development of a GI clinical service along with research in gastrointestinal physiology. Lind and his protégés were very interested in the new technique of esophageal motility studies. He had, beginning in 1958, spent two years at the Mayo Clinic under the tutelage of the Dr. Charles Code studying gastrointestinal physiology. Code is regarded as the “father” of esophageal motility testing. Many landmark clinical developments in the management gastro-esophageal reflux followed and these were associated with Drs’ Ali Khan, Robert Blanchard, John Crispin and others. During this time there was a movement away from pure laboratory based investigation to clinical research.    

In 1973 Dr. Allan Downs was appointed as Head of Surgery and with it came the subsequent recruitment of Dr. Luis Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer was a general surgeon specializing in Trauma Surgery. He also came with excellent research credentials and soon established a laboratory focusing on pulmonary edema. Oppenheimer went on to having a world-class research program and becoming a major figure on the international stage. Many young residents did research rotations under his direction and have gone on to leadership roles. As Director of Research he was sometimes at odds with the Department Head who envisioned a stand alone surgical research laboratory. Oppenheimer saw research in a different light, a new way of doing research in functional groups that crossed specialty lines. This forward-thinking leadership was one factor that naturally culminated in Oppenheimer’s appointment to Head of the Department.    

During Dr. Down’s tenure a robust research program took root in the Section of Plastic Surgery under the direction of Dr. Marek Stranc. The Firefighters Burn Fund supported much of this. Further developments during Dr. Oppenheimer’s time included establishing a first-class research programs in the Section of Orthopedics. These efforts were lead by Dr’s William Rennie and Peter MacDonald. With the support of the St. Boniface Hospital Research Institute, Dr. Allan Menkis was able to establish a very strong research program in Cardiac Surgery.  

The focus has again shifted. Though basic science research continues, we are now seeing more outcomes research and research into teaching. The Department has a modest sized cadres of dedicated researchers guiding us into the future.  

 Department of Surgery

Research and Graduate Office
3rd Floor- 825 Sherbrook Street
Winnipeg Manitoba
Canada  R3A 1M5

Phone:  (204) 787-1219


Manitoba Medical College (circa 1950)


Source: UM Digital Collections