Sunil R. Hingorani, MD, PhD
Dr. Sunil Hingorani believes patients should get the most advanced, comprehensive, and individually tailored care possible. “Sometimes in attempting to diagnose and treat a cancer we lose sight of the individual patient,” Dr. Hingorani says.
“Being diagnosed with pancreas cancer is usually very daunting and frightening for patients and their families,” Dr. Hingorani says. “Maintaining hope is one of the greatest challenges. The needs and concerns of patients have been the prime motivations for launching our multidisciplinary clinic and research programs so that we can transform the outlook for this disease.”
The overarching goal of the Pancreas Cancer Specialty Clinic (PCSC) is to define a new standard of care for pancreas cancer while minimizing the obstacles that patients and their families may encounter in navigating a complex medical system. The PCSC is comprised of a dedicated team of nurses, symptom management and pain specialists, nutritionists, physical therapists, social workers, radiologists, and surgical, medical, and radiation oncologists all singularly devoted to the clinic’s mission.
Patients who come to the PCSC will meet with this multidisciplinary team. After an initial exam, the team will review all of the available information, laboratory tests, and imaging tests and then develop a comprehensive treatment and care plan that they present to the patient. The patient needs to make only one appointment but will see all of the specialists required to treat the disease. At SCCA, patients get the benefit of seeing physicians and care providers from every discipline that can contribute to their treatment plan, all at the same time. This also enables the clinic team to create a more nuanced, comprehensive, and personalized care plan for each patient.
“Our goal is to remove as much of the anxiety for patients as possible,” Dr. Hingorani says. “We do not believe the patient should be left alone to try to decide what type of input or expert they need for their disease or how to find that input. Instead, we bring everyone to them.”
A new way forward
Even as the PCSC team strives to provide the most advanced and state-of–the-art care available today, their mission also includes developing the next generation of treatments and early detection methods. Patients with pancreas cancer rarely develop localizing symptoms until very late in disease progression, making it especially difficult to treat. In addition, these cancers appear to have developed multiple ways to resist and evade chemotherapies and radiation treatments. “The same factors that make it so hard to diagnose and treat have also made pancreas cancer very difficult to study scientifically,” says Dr. Hingorani, who has made it his mission to develop the most accurate and predictive models for this disease possible.
In addition to directing the PCSC, Dr. Hingorani also leads a research laboratory at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that is dedicated to studying and defeating pancreas cancer.
To date, most studies of pancreas cancer have involved experiments on cells grown in plastic dishes in the laboratory. Pancreas cancer neither arises nor thrives on plastic. In the pancreas, cancer evolves slowly and methodically, nourished, sustained, and often protected by surrounding cells. Dr. Hingorani and his colleagues have developed the first genetically engineered model of pancreas cancer that faithfully mimics the human disease from the very earliest precancerous changes all the way to advanced and metastatic cancers. With this model, remarkable findings have recently been uncovered suggesting entirely new ways of approaching this disease. Because the model behaves identically to human pancreas cancer, these animals can also serve as the first place to test experimental therapies. “We believe these animals can serve as surrogates for patients in helping to develop and test the newest strategies for early detection, chemoprevention, and treatment,” he says. This has the potential to spare patients from being the very first in tests for new treatments.
In his years of research, several unexpected properties of pancreas cancer have emerged. One such example is its extremely poor blood supply. “Most solid tumors develop additional blood vessels to provide the substantial blood supply they require to thrive. "Stunningly, this appears not to be the case with pancreas cancer, which can actually endure without much of a blood supply at all,” Dr. Hingorani says. This also provides pancreas cancers with a very straightforward mechanism of resistance to chemotherapy, namely preventing the drugs from ever getting in. “We are now actively developing strategies to target these secondary characteristics of pancreas cancer in order to increase the delivery and penetration of chemotherapeutic agents into the tumors.”
Dr. Hingorani has also made these animal models widely and freely available to researchers around the world who are now also using them to help solve the great challenges of this disease. “Patients and patient advocacy groups have been very instrumental in our research efforts,” Hingorani says. “Governmental funding for pancreas cancer lags far behind that for the other major solid cancers on a case mortality basis. Families and family groups are raising money for research for this disease and deserve to be acknowledged for helping us get this far.”
Dr. Hingorani is a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine and also received a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He completed a medical oncology fellowship at the Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care Program in Boston, Mass., and additional research training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
Sunil R. Hingorani, MD, PhDDr. Hingorani is a medical oncologist who specializes in the care of pancreas cancer patients. He also runs a translational research program dedicated to uncovering mechanisms of pancreas cancer formation and developing new early detection and treatment strategies.
Patient Care Philosophy:
Our goal is to create a comprehensive care plan for the patient covering all aspects of their diagnosis, treatment, and well-being. Our multidisciplinary clinic is designed to bring all of the relevant expertise to the patient in one setting and at the same time to relieve the patient and their familiy members of the burden of trying to navigate complex healthcare systems and decisions by themselves.
- Associate Member, Clinical Research Division and Public Health Sciences Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
- Associate Professor, Medical Oncology, University of Washington School of Medicine
- Founding Director, Pancreas Cancer Specialty Clinic, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
- Medical Oncology
- Pancreas Cancer
- Gastrointestinal Cancers
Education And Training
- Bachelor of Science Degree: Yale University, Molecular Biochemistry & Biophysics, 1985
- Medical Degree: Yale University, Medicine, 1994
- PhD: Yale University, Cellular & Molecular Physiology, 1994
- Residency: Brigham and Women's Hospital
- Clinical Fellowship: Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care Program
- Post-Doctoral Fellowship: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Read his profile on Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's site here.