Clues to how people bounce back from surgery

Lauran Neergaard
Associated Press

Washington — One of the big frustrations of surgery: There’s little way to know if you’ll be a fast or slow healer, someone who feels back to normal in a week or is out of work for a month with lingering pain and fatigue.

Now Stanford University researchers have discovered that right after surgery, patients’ blood harbors clues about how fast they’ll bounce back — and it has to do with the activity of certain immune cells that play a key role in healing.

The work one day may lead to a test to predict who’ll need more care, or maybe even if an operation is the best choice.

“We could ask, ‘Are you fit for surgery?’” said Dr. Martin Angst, a Stanford professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine, who helped lead the research published Wednesday.

U.S. doctors perform millions of operations every year, many of them minor but others much more complex. Speed of recovery depends in part on the type of surgery and how sick the person is. Some hospitals have begun implementing “enhanced recovery” strategies, specific steps to take right before and after certain major operations in hopes of at least speeding the patient’s discharge from the hospital, if not their overall recuperation time.

But scientists don’t know what biology explains why some people recover so much faster than someone else who’s equally sick, information that could help guide development of those enhanced-recovery programs.

“I’m very excited that the science around surgery recovery is going that direction,” said Dr. Julie Thacker, a colorectal surgeon at Duke University.