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Eric Chien-Wei Liao, MD, PHD

  • Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Languages Spoken:
  • English
  • Mandarin

Chien-Wei Eric Liao, M.D., Ph.D., a surgeon-scientist with a clinical focus on reconstructive surgery, is committed to improving patient care through clinical and basic investigations. Working at the intersection of craniofacial surgery, genetics and developmental biology, he is ideally positioned to translate fundamental innovations to clinical applications. He finds caring for patients extremely rewarding and enjoys helping children overcome their illness or congenital malformation, one patient and family at a time. Dr. Liao believes that the impact of this knowledge and training is magnified through teaching, as residents and fellows become colleagues that further our clinical missions; and post-doctoral fellows and students become collaborators to help expand our basic knowledge. The most powerful effect we can have on patients and families, however, is through research investigation. Through research, we identify factors that help us improve clinical outcomes, promote policies and build teams that optimize patient care. Fundamental investigations bring to bear not only advances that improve our understanding of the mechanistic basis of disease, but also innovations that will hopefully, one day, mitigate them. In his view, research is the most patient-focused investment we can make, as our research contributions touch the lives of patients we will never meet.

Dr. Liao holds joint faculty appointments at Shriners Children's Boston, the Department of Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Program in Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Center for Regenerative Medicine. He directs Shriners Children's Boston's Cleft and Craniofacial Center, where he leads a multi-disciplinary team of surgeons and clinicians in the longitudinal care of patients presenting with orofacial clefts and other complex facial anomalies. He also pursues a complementary basic research program in craniofacial developmental biology. He has clinical expertise in the microsurgical reconstruction of craniofacial and oncologic defects. These efforts are unified by his drive to improve patient outcomes through advances in fundamental and clinical investigation.

Dr. Liao says that the fundamental questions under investigation in his basic research program focus on genetic, epigenetic and environmental regulation of craniofacial development. Orofacial clefts are among the most common congenital malformations resulting from anomalous cranial neural crest development. Using various genetic approaches, his team has generated patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) and zebrafish models of orofacial clefts and various complex craniofacial anomalies, designed to uncover the molecular mechanisms that underlie their pathogenesis. Working with human geneticist collaborators locally and across the country, they carry out high throughput functional analysis of human candidate genes implicated in craniofacial development. They have also developed models that can be applied as a high throughput platform to identify compounds that mitigate orofacial cleft phenotypes. The goal of this work is to gain mechanistic insight into the molecular basis of craniofacial development and to develop strategies to prevent orofacial clefts before they form. In collaboration with the Broad Institute, they have built a robust direct-to-patient recruitment functional genomics pipeline that will enable us to broadly identify and interrogate the genetic basis of craniofacial anomalies across the United States (

Dr. Liao is committed to cultivating the next generation of physician-scientists and believes that, as surgeons, we can directly touch the lives of our patients every day, but with research advances, we will touch the lives of patients we may never meet. His commitment to build surgical research has recently culminated in being named the chief research officer for the Department of Surgery. In this leadership role, he works with department and hospital leadership to oversee the broad and productive research portfolio of the department. With annual research spending in excess of $50 million, the MGH Department of Surgery research effort is among the largest in the world. He has implemented several efforts to build bridges across the Department of Surgery to enhance our research and academic development efforts.

In all these clinical, academic and research efforts, Dr. Liao feels fortunate to have been given the opportunities and support to work with skilled colleagues and thrive with the support of mentors and Shriners Children's to make an impact on the lives of patients, trainees and work of our colleagues. He looks forward to continued challenges, to advance missions of academic surgery, to develop clinical innovations and to make fundamental discoveries that will shape a better future for patients whose lives we touch through Shriners Children's.

Pediatric Care


More About Me

Board Certifications
  • American Board of Plastic Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Plastic Surgery - General
Education and Training

Medical Education
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA

Mass General Hospital
Boston, MA

Massachusettes General Hospital
Boston, MA
United States of America

Harvard Plastic Surgery- Residency Program
Boston, MA
United States of America

Academic Positions and Locations

Harvard Medical School

Harvard Medical School
Assistant Professor of Surgery

Leadership and Memberships
  • 2020-Present: Chief Research Officer, Mass General Department of Surgery
  • 2005-Present: Director, Cleft and Craniofacial Center
  • 2020-Present: Director, Pediatric Plastic Surgery
Editorial Positions
  • 2018-Present: Editorial Board, American Cleft Palate Association Journal
  • 2020-Present: Editorial Board, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Awards and Honors
  • 2018-2022, MGH Research Scholar


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