This Tuesday, Dr. David Sugarbaker officially jumped into his new role as chief of thoracic surgery at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Texas. He is serving as chief of a brand new division in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery.

With the move to Texas, Dr. Sugarbaker is accepting a whole host of new responsibilities. He is directing the newly formed Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine and also assuming a role as a professor of surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine.

It was announced in March that Dr. Sugarbaker would be leaving Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). This was monumental news given that one of the leading authorities on mesothelioma in the world would be leaving a program he had been a part of since the late 1980’s.

Since March, Dr. Raphael Bueno has assumed responsibility as the chief of thoracic surgery at BWH, but patients who wished to see Dr. Sugarbaker had to wait until he settled into his new role. He is currently seeing patients again now that the transition to Baylor is complete.

Building a New Empire

Despite the staggering influence he has already had in the mesothelioma community, Dr. Sugarbaker intends to form another international research effort similar to the one he built at BWH.

“Baylor College of Medicine is unique because it offers the opportunity to integrate patient care and a strong surgical program with clinical and translational research, including state-of-the-art genomic research in which Baylor is a leader,” Sugarbaker said. “Our goal is to use all of these resources to get new treatments to patients as soon as possible.”

Collaboration with other cancer centers is key to Dr. Sugarbaker’s research strategy, as is exemplified by his research in Boston. At Baylor, he aims to build on the strengths of the already existing program, while taking advantage of other cancer centers in the region.

MD Anderson is right down the road from Baylor and has already established an exceptional mesothelioma program under Dr. Anne Tsao. This is likely to be a great asset in Dr. Sugarbaker’s goal. It also mirrors the collaborative effort seen in Boston between Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s.

“Baylor collaborates with many institutions in the Texas Medical Center, and Dr. Sugarbaker looks forward to working with a number of investigators at other institutions,” Lori Williams, assistant vice president for communications at Baylor, told Mesothelioma Guide shortly after news that Dr. Sugarbaker would be moving to Texas broke. “He believes collaboration will increase the strength of the effort to find a cure for mesothelioma.”

Dr. Sugarbaker’s Legacy at BWH

A career that started back in 1988, Dr. Sugarbaker has been aggressively pushing the treatment of pleural mesothelioma forward. He has created a seemingly insurmountable legacy, not only at Brigham’s, but in the international community as well.

During his career at BWH, Dr. Sugarbaker accomplished such feats as:

  • Founding the International Mesothelioma Program
  • Developing and perfecting the extrapleural pneumonectomy
  • Establishing a tissue bank for collaborative research

Dr. Sugarbaker even developed one of the staging systems for pleural mesothelioma, named after the hospital he served at when he proposed the system. The Brigham staging system is still recognized and used by clinicians to stage mesothelioma.

The Fate of BWH?

There is no doubt Dr. Sugarbaker left behind a remarkable legacy at Brigham, but any space created by his departure was immediately filled by the talented team of mesothelioma specialists.

For those who are still seeking treatment at BWH, there may be some bouts of apprehension now that Dr. Sugarbaker is gone. However, the program, a concerted effort, is doing better than ever. The transition of the mesothelioma program was overseen by Dr. Raphael Bueno who was the associate chief of thoracic surgery during Dr. Sugarbaker’s tenure.

Dr. Bueno is now the head of the program at BWH, and his experience treating mesothelioma spans 20 years. He has developed procedures for improving diagnosis and leads a team of the best specialists in the world.

Dr. Sugarbaker leaving was, if anything, a positive and exciting development for mesothelioma patients. BWH and the International Mesothelioma Program are the largest treatment programs for mesothelioma and are more than capable of running without Dr. Sugarbaker.

Now Dr. Sugarbaker can take his experience to a new region of the country and influence more doctors to take the reins in treating a rare disease.

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    About the Writer, Andrew Devine

    Andrew Devine is a contributing writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He has developed an interest in educating patients and their families on everything from new treatments to what to expect after diagnosis.