Featured Researcher – Rajan Thakkar, MD

Featured Researcher – Rajan Thakkar, MD 150 150 Alaina Doklovic

Rajan K. Thakkar, MD, FACS, is a pediatric surgeon, the Trauma Medical Director, and the co-Director of the Burn Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He is an associate professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and is a principal investigator at the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences Research at the Abigail Wexner Research Institute. His research focuses on pediatric thermal injury.

Dr. Thakkar attended The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He completed his residency at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and completed his fellowship in Pediatric Surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Thakkar lab’s research aims to examine immune function at the systemic and tissue level in pediatric thermal injury using both whole blood and tissue specimens. In addition to human specimens, the laboratory also has an animal model of thermal injury to study underlying mechanisms of immune dysfunction.

Read on to learn more about Dr. Thakkar’s work and research career.

How/why did you decide to pursue a career in your field?

I chose a career in pediatric burns because I have the opportunity to care for children and their families throughout their healing journey. The majority of burn injuries occur in toddlers, and once we treat and heal their burns, we provide long-term follow up to monitor the child’s scar. These scars tend to grow at a slower rate and can become hypertrophic, or raised, leading to poor functional outcomes. We see these patients into their teenage and young adult years to monitor their scars and intervene if needed. I enjoy being able to have this long-term follow up with the families and help guide them on their journey to recovery.

I also enjoy the research component to my practice – burns remain a common type of injury, yet it is seldom discussed or noted. There are only 44 American Burn Association Verified Pediatric Burn Centers in the country and therefore a shortage of providers and research.

What was your path to your current role?

I never thought I was going to be a surgeon scientist. Prior to medical school I was interested in a combined internal medicine and pediatrics residency. While in medical school at The Ohio State University, I had two wonderful surgeon mentors: Drs. Steven Steinberg and Donna Caniano. They both inspired me that surgeons don’t have to fit a specific mold as well as introduced me to the exciting field of pediatric surgery.

During my general surgery residency training we received extensive experience in trauma and burn surgery. At the same time, I spent an additional two years at Brown University in a translational research laboratory evaluating the cellular mechanisms involved in sepsis and lung injury. Once I completed my time in Providence, I spent an additional two years at Nationwide Children’s Hospital completing my pediatric general surgery training. It was during these two informative years that I furthered my interest in caring for burn patients. I also formed a mentorship relationship with Dr. Mark Hall, which inspired my passion for translational research. These collective experiences and years in training led to my current role as a pediatric surgeon-scientist caring for pediatric burn patients.

Why did you decide to pursue your work at Nationwide Children’s?

The culture of collaboration and commitment to excellence are just a few reasons that drew me to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. At the same time, The Burn Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of only 44 verified pediatric burn centers in the country. Given the infrastructure for research as well as the mentorship available here, this was a unique opportunity to pursue my clinical and academic career.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of the job is watching our patients grow into young adults and having the opportunity to update the patients and families on our exciting research. Since we monitor our patients long-term, we follow them all the way into adulthood and that’s an exciting thing to see. Finally, I get to work with an exciting group of collaborators within our burn center. This includes individuals from many different disciplines including nursing, surgeons, psychology, child life, physical and occupational therapy, nutrition, social work, therapeutic recreation, message therapy, a wonderful clinic staff, our advanced practice providers, researchers, as well as many other providers. These individuals are truly invested in providing best outcomes for our patients with burn related injuries.

Fun Facts About Dr. Thakkar

What’s your favorite phrase and why?

“It’s a marathon not a sprint”. I find myself saying this all the time, mostly with my patients and their families. Burn injuries take time to heal and the scars continue to evolve into adulthood. Often these get better with time, however it is understandably difficult for the patients and their families to recognize this. At the same time, I use this phrase at home with my very own family. It reflects my opinion that most things happen for a reason, and that patience and time can often help you see the positive outcomes.

What do you usually eat for breakfast?

Coffee with cream and sugar – I’m not a big breakfast person. Although one of my favorite weekend activities is to make breakfast for the family. I make an excellent breakfast sandwich!

What would be your dream job if you could do anything (that wasn’t working in research)?

I would want to be a professional athlete. I enjoy all things sports and played both football and basketball in high school.

What’s your favorite food?

Pizza all the way, brick oven (NY style) is the best.

Favorite band/genre/artist?

Country music and enjoy taking the family to concerts!

Favorite way to relax?

Watching movies and sports, in particular Ohio State football! Although that can be stressful at times!!

Who is most important to you?

I always say family comes first! I am married to my wife, an optometrist, and I have two amazing daughters, ages 14 and 16.

How does your research serve our patients and our community?

We are the only pediatric burn center to serve this region and one of only 44 American Burn Association verified Pediatric Burn Centers in the United States. The prevalence of burn injuries remains very high, and although there are low mortality rates associated with burns, morbidity is still high with the most common acute complication being infectious related. Our laboratory has demonstrated that patients with a large burn injury have a suppressed immune system. The goal of our research is to identify the cellular mechanisms that causes immune suppression after burns and to ultimately use immunomodulatory therapy to augment this form of immune suppression and improve outcomes. Looking towards the future, we strive to involve other pediatric burn centers for further collaboration and to perform multi-center studies and clinical trials.

About the author

Alaina Doklovic is a Marketing Specialist for Research Communications at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She received her BS in medical anthropology and English from The Ohio State University. Her passions for science and health, combined with her desire to help others, motivated her to pursue a career in which she could actively help improve patient outcomes and scientific research through writing.