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GI Pathologist Dr. Marie Robert: Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

November 22, 2021

1. As we honor pancreatic awareness month, what do you want our patients and families to pause and remember?

My father was a GI medical researcher and studied pancreatitis during his career; he later died of pancreatic cancer while I was in medical school at the University of Michigan. That time of my life had a lasting impression on me, both personally and professionally. I want our patients and families to know how dedicated we are to helping them using the tools we have now, but I also want them to understand that we are working tirelessly to find better answers for the future. I hope our patients can take comfort in knowing we are devoted to them.

2. How do you collaborate with the Center for GI Cancers at Smilow Cancer Hospital to care for our patients with pancreatic cancers?

The work of a surgical pathologist profoundly impacts patients. While healthcare providers may have a strong suspicion that a patient has cancer, it is a pathologist who makes the initial, definitive diagnosis, often on small biopsy samples. It is the biopsy diagnosis that allows clinicians to recommend therapy and that dictates the next steps toward treatment. Once a tissue diagnosis is confirmed, our team of nine specialized GI pathologists work closely with the team of providers at the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center to help create a treatment plan for each patient. Even after the diagnosis is made, our team continues to work on samples for genomic tumor profiling where we match gene mutations and tumor markers to treatment options, or through rapid frozen section analysis during surgery to assure the tumor has been completely removed.

3. How do you connect with clinicians treating patients with pancreatic cancer to bridge laboratory research to clinical care?

Our pathology team has research collaborations throughout Yale School of Medicine and extending beyond to Yale University and the entire Yale New Haven Health System. Current examples in pancreas cancer include the creation of a comprehensive database of 200+ biopsy samples from pancreatic cancer biopsies being studied to develop predictive markers of responses to therapy, and the development of human pancreas cancer organoid models that allow testing of actual human tumors to find more effective therapies. Pathologists can connect the core team of any research project in human disease, as well as perform clinical trial analysis.

4. Mentorship is an important part of clinical research—what is your favorite way to keep your team engaged, and learning from one another?

One of the privileges of being a Yale physician is the opportunity to teach others, to mentor and to be mentored as well. Mentorship occurs naturally in almost every interaction and is encouraged through team meetings, journal clubs, research meetings and other brainstorming sessions. Through the leadership of Dr. Mandar Muzumdar at Yale Cancer Center, the Yale Pancreatic Cancer Collaborative (YalePaCC) provides scientists and clinicians studying pancreatic cancer throughout Yale with the opportunity to network and engage in collaborative research together. In seeking to advance cancer research, it is clear that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Submitted by Renee Gaudette on November 22, 2021