Fast Five: Q & A with the New Chief of Hematology/Oncology

Walter Stadler, MD

Walter Stadler, MD

Walter M. Stadler, MD, the Fred C. Buffet Professor of medicine and associate dean for clinical research, an internationally recognized authority on prostate, kidney, bladder, and testicular cancers, has been named Chief of the Section of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Chicago Medicine, effective August 15, 2013.

UChicago Cancer Conversations wondered what Stadler’s appointment might mean to the section and to cancer care at UChicago, so we asked him a few questions questions.

1. You have tough acts to follow. Previous section chiefs Drs John Ultmann, Harvey Golomb, Everett Vokes and Richard Schilsky led the section to national prominence as well as making major national contributions personally. How do you hope and plan to build on their legacy?

I’m quite humbled and honored to join this distinguished group, all of whom contributed to my training and/or mentored me personally. I hope to continue the tradition of providing unparalleled care for our patients with complex and often life-threatening hematologic and cancer diagnoses, develop the next set of therapies to improve on our often inadequate treatments, and train the next generation of leaders in this field. Fortunately, I have a large group of talented and dedicated faculty colleagues and staff who will help us reach these goals

2. This is one of the most distinguished medical oncology programs in the country. What makes this group stand out and how do you intend to make it even stronger?

The medical field in general, and hematology/oncology in particular, has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. There are an increasing number of available therapies, unprecedented scientific discoveries on the nature of cancer and cancer progression, an increasing number of highly competent oncologists and hematologists in the community, and unfortunately an increasingly challenging financial and funding environment. However, I believe that my colleagues are the brightest and smartest individuals in this field and we have the opportunity to leverage our talents with those available in a world class university and a world class medical center. I’m thus confident that we can meet and even exceed our goals.

3. What are some the changes that you have witnessed in your own field of genitourinary oncology?

When I began my career interferon and IL2 where the only treatments available for renal cancer, and both were toxic and not particularly effective. We now have seven FDA-approved therapies, and emerging novel immunotherapies that appear quite promising. The advances in prostate cancer are even more dramatic. Standard hormonal therapy (essentially medical or surgical castration) was discovered by Charles Huggins here at the University of Chicago in the 1940’s and no significant new or additional therapies were available for almost a half century.

Over the last 10 years we have developed several additional hormonal therapies, cytotoxic therapies, as well as immunotherapies. I have been fortunate to have been involved with many of these developments and to care for patients that in many ways now have a serious chronic disease, but not one that is an immediate death sentence.

4. Since February, your patients who need to be admitted to the hospital get rooms in the new Center for Care and Discovery. How has that impacted the care you deliver.

Inpatient hematology/oncology care in the 21st century is extremely complex, requires a high technology platform, and is carried out by large teams of caregivers, all for extremely ill patients with difficult medical, social and personal challenges. The CCD not only provides the technical platform to meet our patient’s medical needs, but does so in a stunning environment that is truly healing in every sense of that word.

5. How has clinical research changed and what do you see for the future?

In an earlier era in which there may have been no effective therapies for a particular disease scenario, there was a poor understanding of a particular cancer’s genetic composition, and there were limited drugs available for testing, we often simply took whatever drug was available and tested whether it could shrink cancers. We are now learning the complex genetic make-up of individual cancers, and have the opportunity to test agents that are highly specific for the identified mutations.

Although, such an approach, often termed “personalized” or “precision” oncology, has had some dramatic successes, the complexities of assessing mutations, the evolution and heterogeneity of any patient’s individual cancer, and incorporation of novel therapies into an established treatment paradigm raise a number of issues that are not always recognized. Fortunately, we have a clever group of scientists, clinical researchers, and statisticians, to help us navigate these waters. We have also engaged our community-based colleagues and partners in conducting these research studies, since they often require a much larger patient population than is typically available only at UCMC.

%d bloggers like this: