Still the number one cancer killer in the U.S., according to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is a formidable disease requiring a multifaceted approach to treatment. UVA Cancer Center is committed to improving outcomes for lung cancer patients, recruiting highly skilled clinicians and active research scientists who are dedicated to discovering and utilizing enhanced diagnostic tools and advanced treatments for thoracic malignancies. Here are some of the most recent additions to the thoracic oncology team.
James Isbell, MD, MSCI
Director, Adult Extracorporeal Life Support
Co-Director, Thoracic & Cardiovascular Critical Care
Specialty: Thoracic surgery
Fellowship: Cardiothoracic surgery and surgical critical care, UVA
Residency: General Surgery, Vanderbilt University
Medical degree: University of Texas Southwestern Medical School
Jay Isbell, MD, completed dual fellowships at UVA in cardiothoracic surgery and surgical critical care before being recruited by the Medical Center in July 2013. Influencing his decision to stay on at UVA was the potential for professional growth and, he says, “the opportunity to work with a strong multidisciplinary team with considerable expertise in the care of patients with lung, esophageal and other cancers of the chest cavity.”
“The breadth of cases, both benign and malignant, we see here at UVA is extraordinary,” says Isbell. “The team of experts I work alongside — thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists and interventional pulmonologists — are highly trained and all strive to design comprehensive treatment plans that are personalized to the individual patient.”
In his short time at UVA, Isbell has taken on many roles. He is currently surgical director of the Thoracic and Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, director of the Adult Extracorporeal Life Support Program, and he also works closely with the Lung Transplant Program.
Isbell’s clinical focus is the surgical treatment of lung and esophageal cancer as well as other diseases of the chest, and he specializes in the use of minimally invasive techniques. “With these techniques, patients benefit from an equivalent cancer operation but with much less discomfort compared to traditional open surgical approaches,” says Isbell. “Patients get to leave the hospital and return to their normal activities much sooner.”
As surgery offers the best chance for cure, Isbell recommends “all patients with cancers of the chest seek the consultation of a board-certified thoracic surgeon.” Isbell also encourages second opinions. “We are often able to offer surgical treatment options to patients who have been previously told they were not surgical candidates,” he says.
Isbell has a Masters of Science in Clinical Investigation (M.S.C.I.) from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, which he received during his surgical residency. This training provided him with a strong background in outcomes research and translational clinical research. In addition to investigating why some patients with early-stage lung cancer develop disease recurrence, his research efforts include an early study looking at the use of near-infrared spectroscopy to evaluate tissue oxygenation in both critically ill patients and those undergoing esophagectomy.
About the future, Isbell says UVA Cancer Center is expanding to offer a greater selection of services and clinical trials. “Building disease-specific programs like ours is a real strength,” he says. “With that said, we believe it is important to maintain a close and collaborative relationship with referring community physicians by providing patients with the highest quality specialty care here at UVA and then returning patients to their communities for those services available there.”
Ryan Gentzler, MD
Specialty: Thoracic oncology
Fellowship: Hematology and Oncology, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine
Residency: Internal Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
Medical Degree: Temple University School of Medicine
Ryan Gentzler, MD, completed his fellowship at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, where he was Chief Fellow for Hematology and Oncology prior to joining the thoracic team at UVA this August. It was at Northwestern that Gentzler developed an interest in lung cancer treatment.
“It is an exciting area now in terms of research,” he says. “There has been a lot of progress made in the past decade in terms of new treatment options, including immunotherapy and targeted drug therapies.”
Advancing these treatments will be high on Gentzler’s list of priorities at UVA as he focuses on introducing new clinical trials. One of these studies will be a treatment for patients in the adjuvant setting with earlier-stage disease, which Gentzler hopes will be buoyed by the use of advanced lung cancer screening tools at UVA.
“Low-dose CT lung cancer screening is very exciting and relatively new,” he says. “This is an opportunity for our patients to detect lung cancer earlier and enroll in studies like the one I hope to bring to UVA in the near future.”
At UVA, Gentzler says patients are getting the focused attention necessary to help them overcome disease. “Our goal is to build a program for the treatment of lung cancer specifically,” says Gentzler. “These patients have complicated medical problems and require a strong multidisciplinary approach. Part of what drew me to UVA was the experienced thoracic team — the surgeons, radiation oncologists, pulmonologists — all focused on treating lung cancer.”
Richard Hall, MD
Specialty: Lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies, such as esophageal adenocarcinoma, mesothelioma and thymic carcinoma
Fellowship: Hematology and Oncology, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute
Residency: University of Virginia
Medical Degree: University of Texas Southwestern
Richard Hall, MD, was chief resident at UVA prior to his hematology and oncology fellowship at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, FL. He returned to UVA in July 2014 to work alongside those with a common objective.
“The people at UVA Cancer Center — the faculty, nurses, support staff — are genuine and have a real passion to provide the best possible cancer care,” he says. “This kind of work environment was very appealing to me.”
At an NCI-designated cancer center, Hall says there is also the potential for growth from a research perspective. “The NCI designation is important,” he says. “It means we have to be accountable and provide robust access to clinical trials to our patients.”
Among Hall’s research interests is the use of personalized medicine to improve outcomes for those with lung cancer. “Looking at the genetics of someone’s tumor and tailoring treatment to those specific genes is exciting,” he says. “There is much work to do, but I’m confident we’ll continue to make strides in personalized cancer medicine. By giving novel treatments to patients who didn’t have options before, we have an opportunity to improve care and outcomes.”
Hall’s primary clinical focus will be caring for patients with lung cancer as well as other thoracic malignancies, such as esophageal adenocarcinoma, mesothelioma and thymic carcinoma. He’s committed to keeping community physicians in the loop throughout a patient’s care, especially when it comes to clinical trials. “I will make every effort to engage community oncologists to let them know about all available treatment options,” he says.