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Raphael Bueno, M.D.

Dr. Raphael Bueno is a thoracic surgeon and currently holds the positions of Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and Vice Chair of Surgery for Cancer and Translational Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Dr. Bueno also recently replaced the legendary mesothelioma specialist Dr. David Sugarbaker as director of the hospital’s International Mesothelioma Program and has big shoes to fill in his role leading surgery and research. He is dedicated to maintaining Brigham and Women’s world-leading place in researching and treating mesothelioma. In addition to his leadership role, Dr. Bueno is an educator, serving as a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Education and Early Career

Dr. Bueno graduated from Harvard College, earning an undergraduate degree in biochemistry. While attending Harvard he also worked in a biology laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying bacterial nitrogen regulation. In 1985 he graduated from Harvard Medical School with a Health Sciences and Technology graduate degree. His thesis earned him the Henry A. Christian award.

In 1985 Dr. Bueno began training to be a surgeon, working as an intern at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He followed that with a surgical residency at the hospital. While completing his surgical residency he also studied insulin-like growth factor through a research fellowship. His last piece of training was conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital where he completed a cardiothoracic surgical residency. He then accepted a position at Brigham and Women’s to begin a private surgical practice and a dedicated research laboratory. He remained there for the rest of his career.

Current Position

Dr. Bueno has spent his career at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, working with Dr. Sugarbaker and learning and specializing in mesothelioma as well as other cancers and illnesses. He has spent his time there as a practicing surgeon and a researcher. In 2014 he took over for Dr. Sugarbaker and the director of the International Mesothelioma Program. He currently leads that program and is also the Chief of Thoracic Surgery, the Vice Chair of Surgery for Cancer and Translational Research, and a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, his alma mater.

In taking over for Dr. Sugarbaker, considered to be one of the world’s leading experts in mesothelioma, Dr. Bueno promised a commitment to keeping Brigham and Women’s Hospital a top destination for mesothelioma patients. He hopes to continue the tradition in the International Mesothelioma Program of collaboration, multidisciplinary approaches to treatment, research, and advancing innovative treatment techniques for mesothelioma.

As part of his new leadership role, Dr. Bueno has proven he is committed to patients with mesothelioma. He has devoted every Friday exclusively to working with and for these special patients. Members of the multidisciplinary team gather together to discuss cases and to come up with solutions to help those struggling with mesothelioma.

Dr. Bueno’s Research

While leadership, patient care, and teaching students have all played a big role in Dr. Bueno’s career, research has also been a big part of what he does as a thoracic surgeon. When he had the choice of different medical institutions for his first career position, Dr. Bueno chose to return to Brigham and Women’s Hospital largely because of the Thoracic Surgery Tumor Bank established by Dr. Sugarbaker. The bank is a valuable research tool and he wanted to devote part of his career to studying cancer and especially mesothelioma.

Some of his early research, which benefitted greatly from being able to access the tumor bank, involved a search for genes expressed in mesothelioma cancer cells, but not in those of similar cancers, like lung cancer. Diagnosing mesothelioma is challenging, and understanding the genetic basis helps make it more accurate. Dr. Bueno discovered a simple gene-ratio technique that could be used as a simple clinical test to differentiate between two similar cancers: mesothelioma and adenocarcinoma. He continues to work on the diagnostic tests, refining it so that the biopsy is less invasive for the patient. Other areas of research have included gender in mesothelioma, patient-focused care, and the underlying causes of mesothelioma.

Much of Dr. Bueno’s research is funded by the National Cancer Institute and also involves leading clinical trials with patients. He is currently working on a phase II clinical trial that is testing a neoadjuvant chemotherapy drug in patients whose mesothelioma tumors can be treated with surgery. The trial is examining biomarker responses in the tumors. Other clinical trials Dr. Bueno has led studied extrapleural pneumonectomy, video-assisted thoracic surgery, and analysis of non-small cell lung cancer tissue samples.

Collaboration is also an important part of Dr. Bueno’s work. He collaborates with colleagues in the radiology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, as well as professionals at the University of Chicago, the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Professional Organizations, Achievements, and Honors

Over his long and distinguished career, Dr. Bueno has had many professional achievements, has been honored by colleagues, and has been the member of a number of professional organizations. One important achievement was taking a Brigham and Women’s Hospital team to Israel to lead the first minimally invasive esophagectomy performed in that country, and to teach surgeons there how to do this surgery. He was also the first surgeon in the world to use image-guided video-assisted thoracic surgery, also known as iVATS, to treat a patient with lung cancer.

Dr. Bueno’s honors have included being named a one of America’s Top Doctors several years running and being listed as a top thoracic surgeon by Boston Magazine. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and is an active member in a number of other professional medical and surgical organizations.

As a leader in the research and treatment of mesothelioma, Dr. Bueno has made a big impact on actual patients who struggle with this disease. His research is changing how patients are diagnosed and treated, and his leadership roles at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are impacting both patients and future experts in mesothelioma. His emphasis on innovating both diagnosis  and treatment and on collaborating and offering patients a multimodal approach to care will continue to help advance the cause of mesothelioma and other cancer patients.

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