Expanding a Dynamic Surgery Department
A Q&A With Newly Appointed Chair of Surgery, Cristina Ferrone, MD
Known as a collaborative and highly effective leader, Ferrone succeeds Bruce L. Gewertz, MD, surgeon-in-chief and vice dean of Clinical System Development and Faculty Affairs.
“Dr. Gewertz has set a very high bar with a fantastic faculty and division leaders,” Ferrone said. “I hope to further expand our innovative surgical procedures and technology, translational research, and clinical trials—to further open the door for faculty to do what they are passionate about.”
Ferrone sat down with the Cedars-Sinai Newsroom to discuss her path toward becoming a surgeon, her vision for the Department of Surgery, as well as her latest pancreatic cancer clinical trial, the largest in the United States and Canada.
Newsroom: As the new chair of the Department of Surgery, what are your goals and priorities?
Ferrone: I can start off by saying that Bruce Gewertz has set up an incredible Department of Surgery that is clinically amazing—incredible depth, volume of cases and innovation. I think the goal now for me is to really help take advantage of all of the clinical volume by increasing translational research, clinical trial participation and the academic output of the faculty who are already here and are just so talented and clinically busy. Among the first priorities is to really understand what the faculty are passionate about.
Newsroom: How important is collaboration across disciplines?
Ferrone: It is the end-all and be-all. Collaboration is really the only way we're going to make progress in any type of disease.
It is true for every single specialty—when you bring all the disciplines and research together, that is when it's the most fun and when you make the most progress.
I would say that Cedars-Sinai as an institution is really based on collaboration. It is very clear that this is a very integrated institution.
Newsroom: As a surgical oncologist, what do you specialize in?
Ferrone: I have really dedicated the last 17 years to the management of benign and malignant pancreas and hepatobiliary tumors. Most of the patients I take care of have pancreatic, periampullary, liver, and bile duct cancers.
I also study metastases from other cancers that go to the liver that we now remove, whereas in the past, we did not—that’s a field that's rapidly expanding,
Newsroom: What research have you been pursuing?
Ferrone: I spend a lot of my time focused on clinical trials.
Right now, I'm running the largest pancreatic cancer clinical trial in the United States and Canada for people who could have their pancreas cancer removed, and we are trying to determine if we give people chemotherapy before or after surgery. It's a very simple question, but it's a really important question that we need to answer.
Then I have my translational laboratory work in which we look at immune modulation and how can we alter the immune system to treat pancreatic cancer or bile duct cancer.
We're also working on a novel CAR T-cell therapy and looking at how can we alter the chemotherapies and other targeted therapies to affect the environment of the cancer, what we call the tumor microenvironment, to improve our outcomes.
Newsroom: Did you always know you were going to be a surgeon?
Ferrone: My father is a medical oncologist by training, so I actually thought that I was going to go into either pediatrics or medicine and become a pediatric oncologist or a medical oncologist. Then when I rotated on the surgery service, I knew I couldn't do anything else.
I always had an interest in cancer, I think because of the patient population you get to take care of and because cancer doesn't know any boundaries. We get to take care of all walks of life. For me, that was really important.
In practice, you'll see everybody from the person who is living on the streets to the Fortune 500 CEO. It's really the whole gamut. It's nice to see that the basic core principles and all the similarities amongst all humans surround their lives, no matter what the other circumstances are.
Newsroom: Surgery has traditionally been a male-dominated field. As a female leader, what changes have you seen and experienced?
Ferrone: I started as an intern in 1997, and there were not many female trainees or female faculty, especially in specialties like liver and pancreas. The numbers have thankfully slowly been increasing, and there are more female chairs in surgery now relative to the number there were 10 years ago.
Early on there were very few women, but the women who were in the field were very open, supportive and helpful in terms of encouraging my generation.
When we used to go to the liver and pancreas meeting, we would joke that there were five of us—and now it's obviously a much, much higher percentage of women who are in this field. I'm very thankful to the people who paved the road ahead of me, whether it was in liver and pancreas, or in other specialties.
I think that it's an exciting time to be a woman in surgery and to hopefully pave the path for more inclusivity and more opportunity for everyone.
Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Women in Surgery at Cedars-Sinai