Five Questions With: Dr. Abbas El-Sayed Abbas

Dr. Abbas El-Sayed Abbas, a thoracic surgeon, was appointed chief of thoracic oncology for the Lifespan Cancer Institute and chief of thoracic surgery at Brown Surgical Associates this month.

Abbas, who is known as one of the first surgeons in the world to use robotic surgical systems, comes to Rhode Island after heading thoracic surgery and oncology programs at Temple University Health System and the Fox Chase Comprehensive Cancer Center in Philadelphia. 

PBN: Why did you decide to leave TUHS in Philadelphia for your new position at Lifespan and Brown Surgical Associates? 

ABBAS: After spending almost nine years at the same institution in Philadelphia, creating one of the busiest robotic thoracic programs in the country, I realized that I wanted to do more. My goal has always been to produce a first-rate academic thoracic program that is built on a foundation of unwavering excellence not only in clinical care but also in research and education. To create this, I needed an institution that shared the same vision, and I am confident that I have finally found it at BSA, Lifespan and Brown.

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While visiting Providence, I was met with a real commitment from all levels in support of creating a thoracic program that will help us provide world-class services to our patients in New England and beyond. I was especially impressed by the physician leadership that [makes] this great institution work so seamlessly, including Drs. Bill Cioffi, Tim Babineau, Jack Elias, Wafik El-Deiry, Howard Saffron, Kenneth Wood, and many others.

PBN: What sort of growth potential do you see for the thoracic programs at BSA and Lifespan?

ABBAS: One of the main draws for me was the tremendous need for quality thoracic surgery in Rhode Island. It should not be necessary to travel out of state to receive excellent surgical care for thoracic diseases that are very common such as lung cancer, esophageal cancer, airway disease and many others.

I really believe that we can show our community that Rhode Island is second to none in delivering this level of care, whether it is in advanced minimally invasive thoracic procedures, or cutting-edge diagnostic tools that we will bring to the region. I am confident that in Rhode Island we will become a draw for such procedures from the region at large.

PBN: You are known as an expert in robotic and minimally invasive surgery for many different types of thoracic diseases and cancers. Are the Rhode Island operating rooms you will be working in equipped with the types of technology that you require for these procedures?

ABBAS: Building a strong program will require ongoing vetted investments in bringing new technology that may not have been already present. We have a robust business plan to grow the program at a sustainable rate. I predict that within the not too distant future, we will have operating rooms and services that will be the envy of our colleagues elsewhere.

PBN: Do you use a robotic assistant every time you operate?

ABBAS: Robotic surgery is simply a platform for using remote-controlled miniature instruments to perform surgical functions that are otherwise done by the human hand. These wristed articulating instruments are less than a third of an inch in diameter and can be used with extreme accuracy to perform delicate procedures around the lungs and the heart.

Some operations do not require this level of technology and can be performed just as safely without this technology. However, for almost all my cancer and esophageal surgery, I do indeed use robotic assistance every time.

PBN: What are some areas of cancer research that you have been involved in, and do you plan to continue conducting research in Rhode Island?

ABBAS: Building a strong research program is one of the main goals I have for my new home in Providence. I look forward to collaborating with the superb scientists we have at Brown University and Lifespan to develop a strong translational thoracic research program.

My own research interests have mainly centered around quality outcomes of thoracic surgery. In addition to our own studies, we have participated in several international multicenter prospective and randomized studies investigating the role of robotic surgery in lung and esophageal cancer. I have also collaborated with several basic science colleagues, including my friend Dr. Wafik El-Deiry at the Brown Cancer Center in developing three-dimensional tumorous systems to assess the efficacy of new drugs and their impact on the immune system.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.

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