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Susan E. Mackinnon Receives 2013 Jacobson Innovation Award

Award recognizes surgeon’s accomplishments in pioneering the use of nerve transfer operations for patients with devastating peripheral injuries


CHICAGO (June 7, 2013): Susan E. Mackinnon, MD, FACS, FRCSC, received the 2013 Jacobson Innovation Award of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) at a dinner held in her honor tonight in Chicago, Ill. Dr. Mackinnon is a Fellow of both the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCSC) of her native Canada and of the American College of Surgeons (FACS) of the United States and Canada. She is the Sydney M. Shoenberg, Jr. and Robert H. Shoenberg Endowed Chair as Professor and Chief, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Mo.

The prestigious Jacobson Innovation Award honors living surgeons who have been innovators of a new development or technique in any field of surgery and is made possible through a gift from Julius H. Jacobson II, MD, FACS, and his wife Joan. Dr. Jacobson is a general vascular surgeon known for his pioneering work in the development of microsurgery.

Dr. Mackinnon was honored with this international surgical award in recognition of her leadership in the innovative use of nerve transfer procedures for treatment of patients with devastating peripheral nerve injuries.

Before Dr. Mackinnon’s surgical approach came to light, the traditional management of peripheral nerve injuries involved repairing the nerve at the site of the injury with microsutures and expendable sensory nerves from elsewhere in the body to bridge a gap. However, with this method nerve regeneration was slow and return of muscle function was often poor. In 1991, Dr. Mackinnon’s pioneering work began. It concentrated—not on the anatomical area of nerve injury—but as close as possible to the motor endplates of the muscle that had been denervated. Her surgical approach involves working with expendable branches within major nerves that are nearer the compromised muscle. Essentially the nerve transfer technique changes a high-level proximal injury (such as at the neck) to a more distal injury (such as at the axilla, arm, forearm, or hand) and avoids the detrimental impact of prolonged muscle denervation.

Dr. Mackinnon performed the first nerve transplant in 1988, using nerves from a cadaver to restore feeling and movement to a boy's injured leg. That landmark operation began a quarter century of novel work in nerve transplantation, and led to many other surgical firsts. She has transplanted branches of the median nerve at the wrist to the ulnar nerve, and from the median nerve to the radial nerve—the latter for patients with difficult high radial injuries associated with fractures of the humerus. Similarly, patients with previously disastrous brachial plexus injuries at the shoulder can now be treated with transfers of a nerve branch to the motor components of the median nerve for finger flexion and pronation, and the ulnar nerve for intrinsic hand function.

Most recently, in 2012 Dr. Mackinnon and her surgical team at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis, received worldwide attention for a nerve transfer procedure that successfully enabled a quadriplegic patient to regain some use of his hand. This procedure was the first report of using nerve transfer to restore the ability to flex the thumb and index finger after a spinal cord injury.

Dr. Mackinnon’s groundbreaking work has produced a paradigm shift in the treatment of peripheral nerve injuries. Today surgeons introduce new nerve transfers on a regular basis, helping patients around the globe. By contrast, nerve grafts—which previously added a year or two of nerve regeneration—are avoided altogether. The end result significantly improved care of patients with previously devastating peripheral nerve injuries who now experience a return of function only dreamed of in earlier generations. Legions of patients who have experienced returned function to their injured arms and legs have benefitted from Dr. Mackinnon’s insightful approach to developing nerve transfer operations.

Dr. Mackinnon is a renowned teacher and has been responsible for the interdisciplinary training of an entire generation of specialists interested in the surgical treatment of peripheral nerve injuries, including neurosurgeons, orthopedists, and plastic surgeons. She credits her remarkable success in the field to three decades of research funding support that she has received from the Medical Research Council in Canada and the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. In recent years, she has been working on a military-funded website that shares surgical procedures in step-by-step detail—a method that she calls “surgical recipes” for disseminating information to a greater number of surgeons.

Throughout her exceptional career, Dr. Mackinnon has been a prolific contributor to the medical literature, with more than 450 peer-reviewed manuscripts and 140 book chapters. She has won numerous awards, including the Royal College Medal Award in Surgery from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in 1988. She has served as President of associations and societies in her specialty, most recently as President of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, and in 2007 she received the high honor of election as a Fellow into the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Past Jacobson Innovation Award recipients

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About Susan E. Mackinnon, MD, FACS, FRCSC
Born in Campbellton, New Brunswick, Dr. Mackinnon’s early training and academic career took place principally in Canada from 1975-1991. She earned her MD degree at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, where she performed her residency training in general surgery for three years. She went on to the University of Toronto where she trained in plastic surgery, followed by a neurosurgery research fellowship. She next served as associate professor in the division of plastic surgery at Toronto and served one fellowship year at Raymond Curtis Hand Center in Baltimore, MD. She moved to the U.S. in 1991 and served as professor, division of plastic surgery, at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis and has since held several medical leadership positions there, including: professor of occupational therapy, professor of otolaryngology, and program director of the hand surgery fellowship. Since 1996, she has held the Sydney M. Shoenberg, Jr. and Robert H. Shoenberg Endowed Chair as Professor and Chief, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Dr. Mackinnon married fellow Queen’s University medical school student, Alec Patterson, in 1972. She and Dr. Patterson—who is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and chief of the division of cardiothoracic surgery at Washington University—are now the parents of four grown children, and they have seven grandchildren. Dr. Mackinnon has been a highly visible advocate for women in surgery, mentoring and lecturing frequently on balance in professional and personal issues, lifestyle, and career choices.

About the American College of Surgeons
The American College of Surgeons is a scientific and educational organization of surgeons that was founded in 1913 to raise the standards of surgical practice and improve the quality of care for all surgical patients. The College is dedicated to the ethical and competent practice of surgery. Its achievements have significantly influenced the course of scientific surgery in America and have established it as an important advocate for all surgical patients. The College has more than 79,000 members and is the largest organization of surgeons in the world. For more information, visit


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