Harvey Pass, M.D.
As a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Harvey Pass has spent decades studying mesothelioma, helping patients, and advancing knowledge of this awful disease. He is currently director at New York University Medical Center’s Thoracic Surgery Division. He also leads a couple of important mesothelioma research programs for the National Cancer Institute and has contributed significantly to the knowledge of mesothelioma through his many research projects and clinical trials.
Dr. Pass’s accomplishments over his long career have led to numerous accolades, but none more important than the respect and admiration of his patients and colleagues. His specialties are cardiothoracic surgery and thoracic surgical oncology with a focus on mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Education and Early Career
Dr. Pass began his medical career with an undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University, followed by a medical degree from Duke University Medical School. He stayed on at Duke after graduating to complete his residency there. He also completed a residency program in general surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, followed by a fellowship in thoracic surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina. In between residency programs he worked at the U.S. Public Health Service hospital on Staten Island.
His fellowship in South Carolina was followed by a one year position as an assistant professor of surgery. From the Medical University of South Carolina, Dr. Pass went on to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institute of Health where he worked as a senior staff fellow from 1983 to 1986 and as a senior investigator and head of thoracic oncology from 1986 to 1996. In 1996 he left the NCI for Detroit where he worked at Wayne State University and the Karmanos Cancer Institute until 2005.
In 2005 Dr. Pass left his positions in Detroit to work at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. He is currently the chief of the thoracic surgery division at the hospital. He also serves as the leader of the Early Detection Research Network Biomarker Discovery Laboratory for Mesothelioma and the Mesothelioma Pathogenesis Program Project, both research programs funded by the NCI. In his time at Langone, Dr. Pass has been instrumental in developing the school’s three year thoracic surgery fellowship and in leading and teaching surgical residents.
Making Strides in Photodynamic Therapy
Photodynamic therapy, or PDT, is an innovative treatment for cancer that uses the energy of a beam of light to kill cancer cells, and Dr. Pass was instrumental in developing the treatment and studying it in patients in clinical trials. PDT involves giving a patient a drug called a photosensitizer, which makes cells sensitive to specific wavelengths of light. The tumor is then exposed to those wavelengths, causing the cells to die.
Dr. Pass helped study the use of PDT in mesothelioma patients during his 1986 to 1996 tenure at the National Cancer Institute. The procedure has been found to improve life expectancies in pleural mesothelioma patients. It is not very invasive and can be done on an outpatient basis for most people. PDT is often limited to patients with tumors close to the skin, but Dr. Pass helped to develop an intraoperative version of the treatment so that it could help patients with deeper tumors.
Discovery of Osteopontin and Other Research
Dr. Pass spent many years leading and conducting oncology research, helping to develop such advancements as intraoperative photodynamic therapy. Another important study he conducted led to the discovery of a protein called osteopontin. He made this important discovery along with colleagues while working at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit. The discovery was a crucial new way to help screen for mesothelioma because Dr. Pass found that it accumulated in high levels in patients with pleural mesothelioma. This type of cancer is difficult to diagnose, so having this new biomarker was an important development.
Another area of research that Dr. Pass has conducted and contributed to is the use of adjuvant immunochemotherapy after surgery to remove tumors. He has also made research into mesothelioma easier for other scientists by helping to organize tissue archives. This cancer is rare, so finding tissue to work with in research studies was difficult before Dr. Pass and others began to collect and archive them.
Dr. Pass’s research has also included clinical trials with patients with mesothelioma and other thoracic cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer. He has worked on research using novel chemotherapy drugs, new surgical procedures for mesothelioma, genetic studies, and various types of radiation therapy and multimodal treatments.
Not only has Dr. Pass contributed greatly to the understanding of mesothelioma, its treatments, and diagnosis, leading clinical trials with patients as well as laboratory research, he has also been a passionate advocate for victims of mesothelioma. He has long pushed for greater awareness of the mesothelioma and lung cancer and the connection between these cancers and asbestos exposure. His advocacy has included serving on the board of the Lung Cancer Alliance and founding and serving on the board for the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.
Awards and Organizations
Over several decades of his distinguished career, Dr. Harvey Pass has worked hard to advance knowledge and treatment for mesothelioma and lung cancer and this has earned him membership in prestigious organizations as well as many honors and awards. He has been named one of America’s top doctors and top cancer doctors by several organizations for several years in a row beginning in 2002. He is also a member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, the Cardiothoracic Surgery Network, the General Thoracic Surgical Club, and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
Dr. Pass is a world-renowned surgeon and specialist in the study and treatment of mesothelioma. From his current position of leadership at the Langone Medical Center, he continues to treat patients, lead important research studies, and train and educate the next generation of thoracic surgeons and oncology specialists. In addition to his work with patients and in research, Dr. Pass has been an important part of a vocal advocacy community pushing for recognition of mesothelioma, and especially for its connection to asbestos exposure.
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