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Kern Guppy, MD, PhD

Neurosurgery, KP Sacramento

“My motivation for doing research is a passion for solving problems and figuring out how to give the best care to our patients. Research is one way I can get those answers.”

“Career contribution to research can take many forms,” says Betty Suh-Burgmann, MD, chair of the Central Research Committee. “Some people spend their careers conducting original research. Others dedicate their time to mentoring up-and-coming researchers. And still others invest in the infrastructure of research systems to make research more possible. Dr. Guppy is one of those rare individuals who has done all three.”

Dr. Guppy has conducted more than 40 original research projects, ranging from rare case studies and case reviews to research projects with thousands of subjects, since joining The Permanente Medical Group in 2004. He also cofounded the Kaiser Permanente Spine Registry in 2009, a collaboration between KP Northern and Southern California that automatically collects data on patients in these regions undergoing spine surgery. Data collected includes demographics, diagnoses, operative times, lengths of stay, and reoperations.

Using this registry, which today includes more than 30,000 subjects, Dr. Guppy and his colleagues have published more than 15 research papers, some of which have changed clinical practice in Kaiser Permanente and beyond. One breakthrough study, published in Spine in October 2014, examined the usefulness of bone morphogenetic protein, a costly bone additive for spinal fusions.

“Our research showed that this bone additive did not change fusion rates,” Dr. Guppy says. “After our findings were published, we noted a nearly 50% reduction in its use in Kaiser Permanente regions throughout the country over the next 5 to 8 years. Several papers by outside institutions subsequently duplicated our findings.”

For nearly 2 decades, he also has been the offsite director of the UC Davis and UC San Francisco neurosurgery residency programs at Kaiser Permanente, as well as an associate clinical professor of neurosurgery at UCSF and clinical assistant professor at UC Davis.

“One of things that characterizes Dr. Guppy’s career is his selflessness,” says Dr. Suh Burgmann. “He’s motivated by wanting to improve care for his patients, his colleagues, and the organization. He sees a huge opportunity to do that through research, and has steadfastly pursued every avenue available to him to achieve those goals.”

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