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Q&A: New UMGCC Director of Surgical Oncology Discusses New Cancer Treatments, Drug Development, Gene Therapy and More

Nader Hanna, M.D.

Nader Hanna, M.D., a surgeon who specializes in treating gastrointestinal cancers and soft tissue sarcoma, became head of Surgical Oncology at the University of Maryland Medical Center on August 20, 2004. Dr. Hanna will also join the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

He comes to Baltimore from the University of Kentucky, where he was an associate professor of surgery and served as director of gastrointestinal clinical research at the Lucille Markey Cancer Center. His research interests include using adenovirus-mediated gene therapy and genetic radiotherapy to treat cancer.

In the following interview, Dr. Hanna talks about his goals at University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center (UMGCC), his experience with gene therapy, new drug development, future advances in cancer treatment and much more.

What attracted you to UMGCC?

Certainly the reputation of the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center as a major cancer facility in the state of Maryland attracted me. Its reputation for excellent, innovative care and the recruitment of Dr. Cullen as the new director were major incentives for me to come here.

Dr. Cullen and I share a similar vision to build strong, comprehensive clinical programs. For gastrointestinal cancer, Maryland has all the components to rapidly expand its multidisciplinary gastrointestinal cancer program to treat patients and advance science for gastrointestinal cancer. Finally, the partnership with the State of Maryland to use cigarette restitution funds to fight cancer is truly a national model. Knowing that this funding is available to seed the growth of the Cancer Center separated Maryland from other opportunities that were available to me.

What are your goals and plans for UMGCC?

The goal is not only to focus on gastrointestinal (GI) malignancies and soft tissue sarcomas but also to develop a strong, comprehensive breast cancer program. For all these cancers, we will focus on minimally invasive approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of various GI malignancies. It is also very important to have effective cancer prevention and screening programs. I have a great deal of interest in screening, prevention and early detection of various types of cancer, particularly for colorectal cancer.
Another key goal will be to focus on outreach to community physicians throughout the state. We will build alliances with community physicians to provide the best and most advanced care for patients with advanced malignancies.

Talk a little bit about gene therapy clinical trials you’ve been involved with, and how you will bring that experience here.

So far, I have been involved in four gene therapy clinical trials for advanced solid malignancies, soft tissue sarcoma, pancreatic carcinoma, and esophageal carcinoma. The gene therapy trials for pancreatic and esophageal cancer are multi-institutional trials. Both are open for patient enrollment and will be activated at UMGCC.

What other types of treatments/innovations would you like to bring to UMGCC?

One of the goals of expanding our multidisciplinary program is to expand on our Phase I clinical trials where we collaborate with industrial companies as well as investigator-initiated clinical trials or innovative approaches. That could be a new drug being developed in the pipeline or a combination of existing drugs, or a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

The Cancer Center has a long term partnership with the state of Maryland to use funds from the Cigarette Restitution Fund Program (CRFP) to help Marylanders fight cancer. This includes expanding our cancer center both in terms of our clinical and research capability: building statewide outreach around the state for cancer, to conducting screening programs locally in Baltimore City and to performing research on other tobacco-related diseases. How will CRFP support help expand gastrointestinal cancer activities?

My understanding is that CRFP support received by the Cancer Center already plays a significant role in gastrointestinal cancer. This includes providing funding for related basic and clinical research activities that ultimately lead to making new innovative clinical approaches available to Marylanders. With the CRFP as a catalyst, I intend to work closely with Cancer Center researchers and clinicians to continue to expand our clinical and research efforts in gastrointestinal cancer.

What do you find most rewarding about your career as a researcher and clinician?

On the clinical side, obviously the most rewarding moment is when you’re able to tell the patient that surgery was successful and he is cancer free.

For the research, the rewarding time is when you’re able to present your research results and you’re able to start Phase I trial based on the translational data you’ve developed. There are a lot of ups and downs in research, but one successful product or clinical trial always makes you forget the many failures.

Can you summarize your goals for UMGCC?

My primary goal is to collaborate with existing clinicians and researchers to develop a very comprehensive, technology-driven approach to treating cancer patients. I expect us to become even more well-known for providing state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for our patients through our basic and clinical research activities.

But I also want to place more emphasis on prevention and screening because that’s just as important as treating the patient with cancer. So screening, prevention, education and building alliances with referring physicians in addition to offering a comprehensive program are all things I want to accomplish here.

This page was last updated on: January 24, 2007.