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UH Seidman Surgical Oncology Chief Fights the Good Fight for Patients with Few Options

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UH Clinical Update | September 2023

Treating patients with pancreatic cancer comes with its own unique challenges, with current survival rates not what anyone wants – neither patients nor providers. But UH Seidman Surgical Oncology Chief Jordan Winter, MD, says it’s the interactions he has with patients that help everyone confront these difficult circumstances together.

Jordan Winter, MD Surgical OncologyJordan Winter, MD

“I draw energy from my patients by witnessing their gratitude,” he says. “When I see them and try to give them hope, and it impacts them in a positive way, that also gives me energy as their provider and caregiver. It's a virtuous cycle.”

Five years at UH: Dr. Winter is marking five years as Chief of Surgical Oncology at UH Seidman Cancer Center, after beginning his clinical career at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. He also holds the John and Peggy Garson Family Endowed Chair in Pancreatic Cancer Research and is the Jerome A. and Joy Weinberger Family Master Clinician in Surgical Oncology at UH.

New realization: Now recognized as a national expert in pancreatic cancer with an extensive research portfolio funded by the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society, Dr. Winter says he couldn’t have imagined as a high school student interested in science and medicine how personally meaningful his work would ultimately become.

“As you mature and are exposed to more experiences, you realize the true impact that you can have on people by being their health care provider,” he says. “I mean, it's indescribable. Just by putting your hand on somebody's hand or telling them that we're going to go through this together, that we're going to do everything we can to beat this together -- that connection towards hope is something that is much more substantive.”

Approach to care: When it comes to treating patients, Dr. Winter says he takes a confident and empathetic approach.

“I treat every patient as if they're going to be that outlier, that they're going to be that five-year or 10-year survivor,” he says. “It doesn't happen most of the time. But for everybody, we enter into the relationship with that same goal every time. It’s also important to put yourself in the patient's shoes. If I were a patient suffering this, what is it that I would want? And the answer is, I would want my anxieties or my fears answered now.”

Recognizing compassion: Noting his empathetic approach to care, UH CEO Cliff A. Megerian, MD, FACS, Jane and Henry Meyer Chief Executive Officer Distinguished Chair, recently recognized Dr. Winter with a “Dinner with the Doc” honor.

UH nurse Karen Margolin, RN, for one, speaks of Dr. Winter’s compassion.

“When Dr. Winter comes into the UH Seidman pre-op area to see the patients before surgery he always makes sure to answer all their questions, lets them know he will do his best and gives them reassurance and hope,” she says. “His skills, knowledge and willingness to help others and dedication to our hospital make him admired by staff and his co-workers. Dr. Winter exemplifies the University Hospitals’ spirit and vision with each and every patient.”

Wearing two hats: Not every physician pursues both patient care and medical research. But Dr. Winter says having a foot in both camps helps him answer questions from pancreatic cancer patients about the biology of their tumors or the latest clinical trials available to them. At the same time, he says, it helps keep his research more grounded in “real world” conditions he sees in the clinic.

“Being a clinician allows me to ask very translationally relevant questions, questions that I think are really important and are likely, if successful, to have impact,” he says.

Important findings: To date, Dr. Winter and his research team have identified an important molecular target in pancreatic cancer. They’ve shown that the protein isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH1) can be targeted with the existing drug ivosidenib, publishing their work in the prestigious journal Nature Cancer. A post-doctoral researcher from Dr. Winter’s lab is set to give an invited talk on the team’s work at the upcoming pancreatic cancer research meeting hosted by the American Association for Cancer Research – the premier organization for cancer biology. A clinical trial of ivosidenib paired with the chemotherapy agent FOLFIRINOX is currently underway at UH. But Dr. Winter says this is just the beginning.

“We’re doing some pretty sophisticated, cool, state-of-the-art metabolic analyses of patient tumors to see if it has the effect that we hope it will have,” he says. “We're developing new drugs and we've shown great efficacy in animal models. And we're looking to find the optimal combinations of treatments to pair with these inhibitors to really augment the effect. We’re looking to pair it with a ketogenic diet or with other oral agents as well. The field is not much further along than it was 30 years ago, to be frank, but I think that in terms of our clinical paradigms, our research is making progress at a pre-clinical level.”

Cultivating leadership: Next, Dr. Winter is taking on what he says could be the most important thing he will ever do in his career – cultivating transformational leaders at UH through the new Veale Initiative for Healthcare Innovation’s Fellowship in Leadership and Clinical Transformation. He and Patrick Runnels, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Population Health, are leading the graduate-level program.

“The goal of it is to identify promising leaders in the system and help nurture their leadership development and provide a foundation for their journey to become transformational leaders,” he says. “If we can do that, then it will accelerate the process of our organization becoming a transformational organization.”

Dr. Winter says this is just one way to build on the progress of the past five years at UH.

“It's been amazing,” he says. “I've been able to develop a research program with a great team and have hired great researchers to help build a very productive innovative team studying GI cancer. Plus, I work with just an extraordinary group of surgical oncologists, nurses, administrative assistants and others in my division who are all aligned along purpose, team-oriented caring. It is just a special environment here.”

Congratulations to Dr. Winter for his “Dinner with the Doc” honor.

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