The Foundation
for Barnes-Jewish Hospital

Endowed Chair : Minimizing Cancer Surgery, Maximizing Outcomes

May 9, 2010

When it comes to improving care for patients facing kidney, prostate or testicular cancer, Washington University and Siteman Cancer Center urologic surgeon R. Sherburne Figenshau, MD, thinks small — smaller incisions, smaller cuts and smaller amounts of time inside the body.   


As the Taylor Family and Ralph V. Clayman, MD, Minimally Invasive Urology Chair, the impact of Dr. Figenshau’s work will resonate around the world.


“I’m very humbled and excited to accept this endowed chair, and so deeply grateful for the generosity of Jack Taylor, the Taylor Family, Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation and other donors to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation,” Dr. Figenshau says. “My team and I can now devote more time to research that will help us continue improving techniques for reducing the degree to which we have to invade the body to remove tumors. “Each advance translates into shorter hospital stays, less pain and quicker recovery for our patients.”


The namesake of the endowed chair, Ralph V. Clayman, MD, former Washington University professor of urology and radiology (and current dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine), has been a mentor to Dr. Figenshau throughout his career. “I met Dr. Clayman in 1981 when I worked in his laboratory at the University of Minnesota researching renal cancer,” Dr. Figenshau says. “During medical school, he encouraged me to attend Washington University School of Medicine for my residency, where I had the good fortune to again be in his lab as he was pioneering the laparoscopic kidney removal that revolutionized modern urological surgery. To hold a chair in his name is a very special honor.”


Since completing residencies in general surgery and urologic surgery and joining the Washington University faculty in 1993, Dr. Figenshau has worked to expand minimally invasive surgical techniques for both adults and children. He is eager to explore new possibilities in kidney and testicular cancer treatment.


“We’ve gone from removing the entire kidney to removing only the cancerous part of the kidney, which has improved with the use of the da Vinci robot in kidney surgery,” Dr. Figenshau says. “The robot gives the surgeon improved wrist action, enabling more precise cutting and more secure sutures. These improvements reduce surgical complications, such as urinary leakage and bleeding from the kidney.”


The da Vinci® Surgical System is a computer-enhanced, minimally invasive surgical tool. The system was purchased in 2007 through the support of Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation donors. Surgeons at Barnes-Jewish conducted their 1,000th robotic surgery case using the da Vinci system in January 2010.


“I’d like to use the da Vinci robot to continue developing techniques that shorten the amount of time we must cut off the blood supply from the kidney during this procedure,” Dr. Figenshau says. “This can minimize injury to the kidney and preserve as much of its function as possible, with better patient outcomes.”


He says he would also like to apply the robot to a procedure called a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, used for staging and treating testicular cancer. “This will change the operation from a procedure with a very large incision into a minimally invasive procedure. In fact, through the enhanced opportunities of my endowed chair, I hope to be instrumental in establishing minimally invasive techniques as the standard treatment of testicular cancer.”


As director of the Minimally Invasive Urology Fellowship Program, Dr. Figenshau looks forward to teaching the techniques he and his colleagues develop so this work will be applied more broadly, and even be enriched. “The residents keep me on my toes,” he says. “Their questions always have me thinking of how to make things better.”


He says he is grateful to work at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “The academic opportunities are outstanding, and the facilities maintained by Barnes-Jewish are world-class. It’s a perfect blend for making patient care better — and gifts to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation are a great way to benefit patient care.”


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