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Surgical Diseases and Sciences

The Flinders University Department of Surgery boasts one of the most vibrant combinations of laboratory and clinical research in Australia.

The close-knit university and teaching hospital environment delivers a fully integrated research program with a strong focus on translational outcomes. Our teaching program includes contribution to the Doctor of Medicine and the Master of Surgery.

Our department is spread across Flinders University's teaching hospitals - Flinders Medical Centre and Repatriation General Hospital in southern Adelaide, and the Royal Darwin Hospital in the Northern Territory.



We teach into the Doctor of Medicine program and provide access to Flinders University’s principal teaching hospitals - Flinders Medical Centre, the Repatriation General Hospital and Royal Darwin Hospital.

Higher degree students and qualified medical practitioners are also able to undertake the Master of Surgery program.



Our scientists and surgeons are pooling their expertise to find solutions on a range of complex medical challenges. Their substantial experience in clinical trials ensures solutions are transferred quickly and efficiently into medical practice.

Our research teams have access to cutting edge molecular biology technology and one of Australia’s largest biospecimen repositories – about 10,000 fresh tissue specimens collected over the past decade from endoscopies involving 1000 patients.

Most surgery specialties are represented with research opportunities for both medical and science PhD students.

The interactive research program covers areas such as new clinical procedures; colorectal; ear, nose and throat; plastic surgery and the gastrointestinal tract.

Research teams at the Department of Surgery work closely with scientists and clinicians from many other disciplines within the School of Medicine.


 Research themes

Treatment options for oesophageal cancer

Oesophago-gastric molecular and cellular biology disease research is presently focused on applying microRNA expression profiling in cancer tissue studies, and serum exosome based studies for:

  • The identification and validation of microRNA expression profiles that can be used for the early detection of oesophago-gastric cancer.
  • The identification and validation of pre-therapy microRNA expression profiles associated with oesophago-gastric tumor sensitivity to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This will lead to the development of:
    • microRNA panels that can be used for the identification of patients with oesophago-gastric cancers who will not benefit from chemotherapy before surgery
    • microRNA therapeutic strategies for sensitizing tumors to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

In collaboration with the Department of Surgery, Ear Nose and Throat Unit, we are also applying our expertise in these areas to identify informative diagnostic and prognostic microRNA expression profiles in head and neck cancers.

We are also developing an ex-vivo model for growing oesophago-gastric cancer tissue, and applying this model to study the effects of various anti-neoplastic agents, including modulators of steroid hormone receptor activity.

Contact: Dr Damian Hussey


Surgery for gastro-oesophageal reflux

Gastro-oesophageal reflux is a very common problem in Western Countries with nearly 20% of adults now consuming medication for this problem.

For more than two decades, surgeons in the Department of Surgery have conducted a series of world-leading randomised trials to determine how to best undertake surgery for the treatment of gastro-oesophageal reflux.

These trials are making a major contribution to the evidence base underpinning this surgery. Data maturity is now allowing very long term surgical outcomes to be determined.

Contact: Professor David Watson


Prevention and early detection of gastrointestinal cancer

Gastrointestinal cancer represents a major cancer burden worldwide, but most research focuses on advanced disease, when treatment outcomes can be poor.

As treatment of gastrointestinal cancer at its earliest stage offers a much higher chance of cure, work is focusing on prevention and early detection.

Our surgery and gastroenterology clinicians are working with health economists, population health researchers, behavioural scientists and general practice to develop cost effective strategies for better prevention and early detection of oesophageal and colonic cancer.

Contact: Professor David Watson


Plastic and reconstructive surgery

Within the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery, we focus on clinical outcomes research, including:

  • Patients reported outcomes of bilateral breast reduction surgery and the relationship to disproportionality.
  • Outcomes of breast reconstruction following mastectomy.
  • The role of autologous fat grafting in breast reconstruction.
  • Outcomes of breast reconstruction in women with a high BMI.
  • The experience of patients with multiple surgical complications and how we can improve it.
  • Prioritization of hand trauma patients and relationship to functional outcomes.

Contact: Dr Nicola Dean


Breath analytics

Breath analytics represents an exciting, cutting edge technology that will provide new capabilities in the non-invasive detection and monitoring of health and disease.

The Breath Analysis Research team at Flinders University is developing and validating breath analysis tools that can be translated into point of care devices, offering new opportunities for early detection of cancer and inflammatory disease that will lead to improved clinical management.

Contact: Dr Roger Yazbek


Colonic function - defining the mechanisms

Every year in Australia and throughout the world billions of dollars are spent in an attempt to treat functional disorders of the large bowel such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and faecal incontinence.

Yet despite more than 100 years of research, the human colon remains one of the least understood organs of the body. As a result for many patients, the current treatment options do not relieve symptoms.

Using a range of techniques developed by the researchers at Flinders University and Flinders Medical Centre, including:

  • in vivo fibre-optic high-resolution manometry;
  • in vivo high-resolution impedance/manometry; and
  • ex vivo organ bath studies of entire length of human colon removed during surgical procedures;

our research aims to bring our understanding of the complex physiology of the colon's motor activity to a similar level to other major body systems (cardiovascular, respiratory, somatic systems).

Contact: Professor Phil Dinning


Applied research improving dysphagia diagnosis

Difficulty with swallowing is a common health problem that impacts severely on the quality of life.

Dysphagia is a frequent symptom of diseases that affect the nerves and muscles of the body and, in severe cases, results in poor nutrition and even premature death, due to complications such as pulmonary aspiration.

Accurate diagnosis of dysphagia pathophysiology is critical to be able to provide appropriate treatments.

Our work has focused on developing better methodologies to diagnose swallowing disorders. We have established new methods of analysis which identify specific swallowing disorders and we are trialling this new method in patients with a range of dysphagis causing aetiologies, such as stroke and motor neuron disease.

Contact: Associate Professor Taher Omari


Ear, nose and throat

A number of conditions effect the ears, nose and throat including cancer, sleep apnoea, chronic sinusitis and ear infections.

Our key research projects involve identifying biomarkers in blood and breath of head and neck cancers, a randomised controlled trial evaluating clinical outcomes with a new surgical approach to treat obstructive sleep apnoea.

Other research interests include evaluating innate immunity and surgical outcomes following endoscopic surgery.

Contact: Dr Eng Ooi



The Lymphoedema Research Unit investigates:

  • the early detection of lymphoedema (in collaboration with BME staff);
  • the role of objective assessment of change in the affected limb; and
  • targeted and sequenced treatments to improve patient outcomes.

Medical and research higher degree student research explores the impact of activity and exercise on lymph flow, assessment of lymphatic function using non-invasive imaging (ICG), and review of deficits in health professional education and its impact on Lymphoedema recognition.

The inter-relationship between the lymphatic system function/dysfunction, immune response and infection is also being explored.

Recent trials include the testing of intermittent pneumatic compression as a home-based treatment option and WiiFit for exercise facilitation.

Contact: Professor Neil Piller


Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery