David J. Sugarbaker, M.D., the internationally-recognized thoracic surgeon specializing in the treatment of mesothelioma and complex thoracic cancers, has died. He was 65.
Dr. Sugarbaker’s dedication to surgical expertise and mesothelioma patient care led to his refinement of several groundbreaking surgical techniques, including extrapleural pneumonectomy and the use of intraoperative heated chemotherapy. He is acknowledged as the first physician to introduce multimodality therapy in the treatment of mesothelioma, as well as the first to introduce the goal of macroscopic complete resection of mesothelioma tumors. In recent years his research was dedicated to the improvement of drugs used for the treatment of the disease, and particularly to the development of bioinformatic tools and functional analysis algorithms that would reveal effective targets for cancer drugs.
Dr. Sugarbaker’s medical career began early in his life, when as a high school and college student he would accompany his physician father on patient visits and assist him in the operating room. After graduating cum laude from Wheaton College in Illinois, he graduated from Cornell University Medical School and completed a residency in surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and in cardiothoracic surgery at Toronto General Hospital, where he later became chief resident of both thoracic surgery and cardiac surgery. Following time at The Hospital for Sick Children as a resident in pediatric cardiac surgery, he moved on to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he began to focus on pleural mesothelioma.
While at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Sugarbaker built the first non-cardiac division of thoracic surgery in the United States. He completed the first ever lung transplant in the state of Massachusetts and then developed the first general thoracic surgical training in the U.S. He later became Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and founded the International Mesothelioma Program, the largest program dedicated to finding a cure for the rare and fatal form of cancer.
In 2014, Dr. Sugarbaker left Boston to found the new Division of General Thoracic Surgery at Texas Medical Center, the Lung Institute, as well as the Mesothelioma Treatment Center which focuses on evaluating and treating patients diagnosed with mesothelioma. He was Director of the Baylor College of Medicine Lung Institute at CHI St. Luke’s Health-Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.
Dr. Sugarbaker had been named one of “America’s Top Doctors” every year since 2002, with special distinctions awarded in 2007 and 2009. He received the Pioneer Award from the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation in 2012, and in 2013 was awarded the Henry D. Chadwick Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Massachusetts Pulmonary Section of the American Lung Association of the Northeast’s Medical and Scientific Branch.
Dr. Sugarbaker’s skill, innovation, compassion and dedication will be missed by the entire mesothelioma community, from his colleagues to his patients and including all those who work to provide mesothelioma victims with the best care and resources available.