What are your current research interests? What is a project you are currently working on?
When I was in my general surgery residency, I devoted two years in the lab where I first started to do basic science research on pancreatic cancer. Ironically, while I was in his lab, my grandmother was diagnosed and died from this terrible disease. Since that time, I have researched pancreatic carcinogenesis in both the basic science and clinical realm. Currently, my lab and I are investigating the role of the microbiome on pancreatic cancer development and progression. Recently, we have published on this research, and based on data from that publication, we are now assessing what influence the microbiome has on the immune system to either accelerate or decelerate pancreatic cancer development.
How did you end up going into medicine and/or why did you decide on your specialty?
I went into the field of medicine because of medical issues with my father and grandfather while I was growing up. Pursuing a vocation that enabled me to help other people during a vulnerable time in their lives and restore life or function became very important to me. As a child and teenager, I was always taking things apart to figure out how they worked, and this, ultimately, led to my pursuit of surgery as a career within medicine. Through the years, I have gained additional inspiration and motivation primarily from members of my family who have been tremendously supportive during my years of training and even now with my academic and clinical pursuits.
Why did you decide to focus on cancer?
In college, “I became very interested in biochemistry and molecular genetics after observing that small changes at the molecular level can have significant biological ramifications.” During my general surgery residency, I quickly recognized that the field of oncology revolves around this principle, which led to my pursuit of fellowship training in complex general surgical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In this field, I can not only treat cancer clinically but research its causes in the lab. It is very rewarding to help a patient through their cancer diagnosis and work as part of a multidisciplinary team to offer them the best chance for cure and extend their life.
What do you want to achieve with your work and/or in your career?
As cliché as it may sound coming from a physician, the main goal of my work and career is simply to help other people. Whether that be in the clinic, operating room or through my research — my goal is to extend and enhance the lives of others. Everything else is ancillary but additive to that goal. My ultimate goal would be for my research to have a direct impact on the care of cancer patients, particularly pancreatic cancer. It is this goal that I have in mind whenever I am doing something lab related — what can we learn to help people with cancer?
What excites you about your work? What is exciting to you about your field right now?
From a clinical standpoint, I still get very excited when I perform a very complicated surgical resection in order to give someone the best chance for a cancer cure as possible. It is a great honor to be able to help someone in this manner and still gives me pause when I am given such an opportunity. From a research standpoint, I get excited when my lab makes new discoveries that push us in a new direction or expand on knowledge that we have gained. While my contributions to science may be small, I hope that it adds to the body of research needed to improve survival for patients with pancreatic cancer. I think that the areas of the microbiome as well as host-immunology-tumor interaction are the most active areas of research right now that will have a significant impact on cancer care in the future.
What do you like to do outside of work?
My favorite thing to do outside of work is to spend time with my wife, Dr. Janice Taylor; five-year-old son, Henry; and two-year-old daughter, Nora. Henry and Nora certainly keep my wife and me busy, and they often have more active social calendars than we do! I enjoy swimming with the kids, and Henry has found a new love in golf and chess. Janice and I love to travel, and we hope to bring Henry and Nora to Europe in the near future.