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Specialists discuss the future of surgery as the IAS celebrates its 5th anniversary

RPA's Institute of Academic Surgery marks milestone

October 2019

Specialists discuss the future of surgery as the IAS celebrates its 5th anniversary

Specialists discuss the future of surgery as the IAS celebrates its 5th anniversary

Leading surgeons and specialists have shared their views about the future of surgery as they mark the 5th anniversary of Australia’s first hospital-based institute to support surgical education, training and research.

“One of the great changes will be the development of titanium 3D printing so we can print any bony body part that we like,” Associate Professor Paul Stalley, who’s been a consultant at RPA since 1986, said.

“You [will be able to] resect almost anything you like and replace it with a custom made prosthesis,” Associate Professor Stalley, who is also the Program Director of Surgical Services for Sydney Local Health District, said.

Stella Pillai, who’s worked at the hospital for more than 20 years and is the Nurse Manager for Operating Theatres at RPA, agrees.

“Custom-built prosthetics and 3D printed prosthetics… that’s the exciting part of surgery to come,” she said.

Dr Peter Lee, the Deputy Director of Surgery for Operating Theatres at RPA, also has a prediction about what lies ahead.

“I believe there are three things that will change surgery in the next 10 years: artificial intelligence, robotics surgery and targeted personalised treatment particularly for cancer patients,” he said.

Associate Professor Sydney Ch’ng, the Research Lead for Plastics and Reconstructive Surgery, said it may become possible to engineer complex organs for transplantation.  

“I think there will be a day where complex body parts like the ear, the nose or even the eyeball can potentially be transplanted,” she said.

Dr Brett Fritsch, the Research Lead for Robotic-assisted Orthopaedic Surgery, said data will also play a big role.

“We’re transitioning from surgery as an art to surgery as a science… by using data collection from hundreds, or thousands, of years of treating people in the way we think works, to actually quantifying what we do. And using that real quantified data to measure what we do know works. And, that’s a big change,” he said.

It’s a view echoed by Dr David Yeo, the Research Lead for Upper Gastrointestinal Surgery.

“Surgery has essentially been one person treats one patient. We are now learning from big data what we can achieve more communally. And I think how we use that big data in surgery in the future is going to be a challenge but also a big opportunity,” he said.

Dr Anthony Marren, Research Lead for Benign Gynaecology, believes it’s important to assess the effectiveness of any new technology.

“I think any sort of new technology does need to be introduced in a research environment so that we can properly record the patient’s outcomes and make sure that the patients benefit from that new technology,” he said.

The group were among those gathered to reflect on the achievements of RPA’s Institute of Academic Surgery in the five years since it was established in 2014.

The Institute has a key role to play in the surgery of tomorrow.

Its Simulation Theatre and Surgical Skills Laboratory provide hands-on training for nurses, allied health professionals, medical students, junior doctors and surgical consultants across 16 surgical departments at RPA.

About one third of the patients admitted to RPA require surgery.

“We undertake some of Australia’s most complex surgical cases,” Professor Michael Solomon, the Institute’s co-chair, said.

“Surgical research is absolutely imperative. The main objective of the Institute of Academic Surgery is to facilitate support for surgeons, who are in busy practice, to do academic research by providing the infrastructure and a mentoring program for young surgeons starting clinical practice,” he said.

The team is proud what it’s achieved in the first five years and excited about what is on the horizon.

“Our vision is to be recognised as a world-leading centre for academic surgery. We have the capacity to better inform major funding bodies, and indeed governments, about how better to fund surgical research and indeed surgical practice,” the co-chair of the Institute, Professor Paul Bannon, said.

Sydney Local Health District’s chief executive, Dr Teresa Anderson, AM congratulated the team at the IAS, reflecting on the positive impact of their work.

“I am very proud of the work undertaken by the IAS and its ongoing leadership in integrating research, teaching and high-quality clinical care which is providing better outcomes for our patients and the community.”

During a day of celebrations in recognition of the IAS’ 5TH anniversary, surgeons delivered presentations about their innovative projects which included surgical skills and training, surgical outcomes, 3D bio-printing and research into uterine transplantation.

A Q and A-style panel discussion – moderated by Professor Solomon – debated a series of current issues including the Therapeutic Goods Administration's new ban on breast implants, the ethics and regulation around surgeons advertising as well crowd-funding for surgery.

The panellists were former Federal Health Minister Graham Richardson, Executive Director of the Ethics Centre Dr Simon Longstaff AO, Professor of Media Catharine Lumby, President of the NSW Medical Council Associate Professor Richard Walsh, CEO of Breast Cancer Australia Kirsten Pillati, Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy and Associate Professor Harvey Stern, Head of Department for Plastics and Reconstructive Surgery at RPA.

Later, 250 people gathered to mark the anniversary and celebrate surgery at RPA at a cocktail party held at the Museum of Contemporary Art during which guests could participate in augmented reality videos as well as interactive models that were on display.

For more information about the IAS, please see

To view more images of the celebrations, please click here.

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Page Last Updated: 27 May, 2020