The newest team members of the University of New Mexico Cancer Center are relocating here from across the country, bringing diverse skills and a passion for oncology. “We have an exceptional team of clinicians and researchers,” says Cheryl Willman, MD, Director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center. “These four add depth and new perspectives to our translational research work.” Translational research, or the application of research advances to patient treatment in a clinical setting, is the primary goal of the UNM Cancer Center. The four new physicians will join different research and clinical teams aimed at bringing the latest research benefits to cancer patients.
David Y. Lee, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology, comes from William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI. He trained at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and became a physician-scientist in order to bring the latest discoveries and information to his patients. “When I see patients as a clinician, I want to do the best I can,” he says. “My vision is being able to make a difference in the care of cancer patients. I believe it’s through collaboration among the clinicians and scientists. By sharing our insights and experiences in our respective specialties, I really think dramatic changes can be made through translating basic research into patient care.” In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Lee will conduct research in DNA repair and epigenetics under an American Society for Radiation Oncology seed grant. “We’ve made significant progress in the last 5 years in accurately targeting cancer with image-guidance technology,” Dr. Lee says of recent advances in radiation therapy. The next big frontier in advancing patient care, he thinks, is to apply our understanding of cancer biology to enhancing radiation therapy effectiveness in cancer treatment.
David Chafey, MD, Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, completed his training at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. He is fluent in Spanish and has two orthopaedic sub-specialties; one sub-specialty is trauma and reconstruction and the other is musculoskeletal oncology. He will team with medical oncologists and radiation oncologists to assess the size and location of tumors in deciding how best to treat the cancer. “Through a multi-disciplinary approach, we are able to perform limb salvage surgery and still prolong a person’s life,” he says. “In the past, people would have to make difficult choices between life and preserving a limb. Through recent advances, we can preserve limb function and restore mobility without compromising survival.” Dr. Chafey also studies reconstructive surgery when cancers in advanced stages spread from other organs, such as the breast, prostate or lungs, into bone. “Our goal is to maintain function and prevent fractures without disrupting cancer treatment,” he says, “while still improving quality of life.”
Sarah Foster Adams, MD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, relocated to New Mexico with her husband, Andrew T. Cowan, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Surgery. Both studied at Harvard University, University of Chicago and University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Adams will perform gynecologic robotic surgery. The procedure is minimally invasive, allowing cancer treatment after surgery to begin sooner because recovery from the surgery results in fewer complications and is so much faster and less painful. Dr. Adams’ arrival expands the surgical options for women in New Mexico with cancers of the uterus, cervix, or ovaries. When not in the clinic, Dr. Adams will focus her research, funded by the American Cancer Society, on how the immune system interacts with and affects the ability of ovarian cancer to metastasize in the peritoneal cavity. Because ovarian cancer spreads so quickly and is rarely caught early, it has one of the lowest 5-year survival rates among cancers. “I’m interested in investigating how the immune system responds to ovarian cancer,” she explains, “and whether we can improve the response to help clear the tumor immunologically in a way that will protect people from having the tumor come back.”
Dr. Cowan is an Otolaryngologist (ears, nose and throat doctor) who specializes in treating head and neck cancer. Trained in trans-oral robotic surgery at The University of Pennsylvania, he is bringing this technique to the UNM Cancer Center. Because TORS is much less invasive than traditional throat surgery, cancer patients recover faster. And because the tumor is surgically removed, TORS reduces or eliminates the need for chemoradiation therapy to the area resulting in less damage to surrounding throat tissues and allowing cancer patients to recover most or all of their swallowing ability after therapy. When not in surgery, Dr. Cowan will study the role of human papillomavirus in cancers of the throat. “An increasing number of head and neck cancer cases are due to human papillomavirus, the same virus that causes cervical cancer,” he says. Unlike cervical cancer, however, a screening test for HPV-related throat cancers is not yet available. Dr. Cowan will study the early stages of the disease to better understand how it progresses and to tailor a screening test or therapy.
“We are very happy to welcome these four outstanding people to our team,” says Dr. Willman. “Each has remarked on how collaborative our clinical and research community is and we look forward to their contributions. Our ability to attract such top talent to the University of New Mexico Cancer Center is a reminder that we have much to offer the rest of the nation.”
Dr. David Lee, Dr. David Chafey, Dr. Andrew Cowan and Dr. Sarah Adams stand in front of the UNM Cancer Center Treatment and Clinical Research Facility on 1201 Camino de Salud, NE, Albuquerque. They are the newest physicians to join the UNM Cancer Center team. (UNM Cancer Center)
About the UNM Cancer Center
The UNM Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center in the state. One of just 67 NCI-designated cancer centers nationwide, the UNM Cancer Center is recognized for its scientific excellence, contributions to cancer research and delivery of medical advances to patients and their families. 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 MD Anderson, Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic. The UNM Cancer Center treats more than 65 percent of the adults and virtually all of the children in New Mexico affected by cancer, from every county in the state. In 2010, it provided care to more than 15,800 cancer patients. The Center’s research programs are supported by nearly $60 million annually in federal and private funding. Learn more at http://cancer.unm.edu.