Like a juggler keeping multiple plates in the air, a surgeon in academic medicine must balance research and medical training with outstanding patient care. Charles Bellows, MD, FACS, relishes the challenge. Dr. Bellows, a University of New Mexico Professor of General Surgery, recently assumed the role of Chief of the Division of General Surgery in the Department of Surgery at the UNM School of Medicine. “Each part of my career has been great, but I was certainly looking for the next career challenge. The opportunity to lead the Division of General Surgery at UNM and focus on designing new delivery models of care, expanding capacity, and educating physicians to excel within a transformed healthcare environment is really exciting," he says.
As Division Chief, Dr. Bellows is responsible for UNM Hospital’s Level I Trauma Center, the only Level I Trauma Center in New Mexico. But also as Division Chief, he will work to expand the clinical and research programs. “As physicians, we must always strive to provide the best possible care for our patients,” he explains. And to provide the best possible care, Dr. Bellows believes in innovating. He wants to inspire the Division to find better ways to care for patients every day and improve their outcomes through integrated clinical practice, education and research. Dr. Bellows is looking forward to his new role. “As Division chief, one of the challenges for me will be to create a balance in the Division that fosters research, education and clinical work in a way that makes the workplace environment conducive to innovation, enthusiasm, and commitment,” he says. Dr. Bellows believes that a strong academic research program in General Surgery is very important. He will continue his basic and clinical research to set the tone for the whole Division.
One of Dr. Bellows’ research areas is biofilm infections and chronic non-healing wounds. Biofilms are thin films of microbes and their sticky secretions that can form over a wound. The body’s immune system doesn’t fight biofilms well. Biofilms keep wounds from healing and can cause them to become infected, making them difficult and costly to treat. Dr. Bellows’ research has shown that re-programmed bone marrow stem cells can produce proteins that destroy biofilms and speed wound healing. Creating methods to safely and effectively deliver these proteins to biofilm-infected wounds in people is the next step in his translational research project.
Another of Dr. Bellow’s research areas is obesity and colon cancer. He and his colleagues at University of Texas have recently discovered that obese people and people with colon cancer have high levels of adult fat stem cells in their blood. When the researchers compared the blood of obese and lean people with colon cancer, they found that the obese people had much higher levels of adult fat stem cells. Dr. Bellows and his team are now studying whether and how changing the level of adult fat stems cells in the blood of the obese people affects their colon cancer. Dr. Bellows’ particular interest is in how diet and exercise affect colon cancer and whether the level of adult fat stem cells changes.
Dr. Bellows encourages his fellow faculty members to pursue their own research interests and to involve medical students and residents. For faculty, studying an area that interests them can be a refreshing change from their clinical tasks. For students and residents, learning how to balance research with treating people is a critical skill that will serve them well throughout their careers. “The academic mission is critically important for all of us,” Dr. Bellows says. “There are many exciting and demanding challenges that lie ahead and I am excited about facing these challenges and making a positive contribution to the University.”
About the UNM Cancer Center
The UNM Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in the state. One of just 68 premier NCI-Designated Cancer Centers nationwide, the UNM Cancer Center is recognized for its scientific excellence, contributions to cancer research, the delivery of high quality, state of the art cancer diagnosis and treatment to all New Mexicans, and its community outreach programs statewide. Annual federal and private funding of over $72 million supports the UNM Cancer Center’s research programs. The UNM Cancer Center treats more than 60 percent of the adults and virtually all of the children in New Mexico affected by cancer, from every county in the state. It is home to New Mexico’s largest team of board-certified oncology physicians and research scientists, representing every cancer specialty and hailing from prestigious institutions such as M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, and the Mayo Clinic. Through its partnership with Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, the UNM Cancer Center brings world-class cancer care to the southern part of the state; its collaborative clinical programs in Santa Fe and Farmington serve northern New Mexico and it is developing new collaborative programs in Alamogordo and in Roswell/Carlsbad. The UNM Cancer Center also supports several community outreach programs to make cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment available to every New Mexican. Learn more at www.cancer.unm.edu.