Maggie Diller receives first Department of Surgery Pilot Research Award

July 2021

Maggie Diller

Maggie Diller, MD, assistant professor of surgery in the Division of General and GI Surgery, has been selected as the first recipient of the Department of Surgery Pilot Research Award.

The department established the pilot grant/seed funding award to support faculty as they develop a new line of research to further their academic careers, with the ultimate goal of generating preliminary data to support larger grant proposals in the future. Winning projects will be funded up to $50,000 in direct costs for one year, with the potential for competitive renewal for a second year.

Dr. Diller's study will investigate the feasibility of a novel, digital mindfulness intervention for pain control following oncologic surgery. After integrating input from surgeons and mindfulness researchers, Dr. Diller and her team collaborated with yoga and meditation science experts on the creation of a unique guided meditation specific to a surgical population, then adapted the exercise for delivery via mobile phone devices. Artificial intelligence technology will be used to deliver the intervention and patient assessments while also collecting and storing patient-reported outcomes via interactive text messaging.

Through this proposal, Dr. Diller aims for mindfulness therapy to be extended to a particular patient population that is disproportionately affected by a national opioid epidemic, and for the critical gaps in knowledge that have prevented the therapy's safe and effective implementation into perioperative pain management strategies to be addressed.

During her general surgery residency at Emory, Dr. Diller performed a two year research sabbatical which laid the groundwork for implementing her own clinical and translational research. She worked under the mentorship of Mandy Ford, PhD, and Keith Delman, MD, engaging in such projects as investigating the combination of specific therapies in patients with advanced melanoma and examining the mechanics of the immune response to improve cancer cellular therapies.

Dr. Diller joined the department in 2020 after completing her clinical fellowship in advanced gastrointestinal, minimally invasive, and bariatric surgery at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. Her current research mentor is Emory urologist-scientist Viraj Master, MD, PhD, Fray F. Marshall Chair in Clinical Urologic Research and director of  integrative oncology and survivorship at Winship Cancer Institute. Dr. Master is a well-established, NIH-funded investigator, and provides a multitude of shared resources and extensive experience in the study and application of integrative techniques.

"Dr. Diller's proposal demonstrated extraordinary potential, and we are excited to partner with her by funding this impactful research," says Craig Coopersmith, MD, FACS, MCCM, vice chair of research for the Department of Surgery.