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UH Radiation Oncology Chair Charts a Circuitous Path with Impact

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UH Clinical Update | November 2023

Physicians make a difference.

Daniel Spratt, MDDaniel Spratt, MD

Never has that been truer than in the case of Daniel Spratt, MD, now closing in on his third year as Chair of Radiation Oncology at UH Seidman Cancer Center and Vincent K. Smith Chair in Radiation Oncology. After graduating from high school, he worked as a personal trainer. Eventually, he enrolled in college, but dropped out after a year. But then two of his personal training clients – physicians – gave him the advice that helped him find a different way forward.

“They burst the small bubble I was in and exposed me to science and medicine. That was a catalyst to pivot my drive into something that really has limitless potential,” Dr. Spratt recalls. “I never really knew how you became a doctor. I just figured you had to be born into a wealthy family, but they showed me the path. I re-enrolled in college and did a bit of a 180 because school was not my priority previously.”

A different journey: The new path led Dr. Spratt to an undergraduate degree from Georgia State University, a medical degree with selection to Alpha Omega Alpha honor medical society from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, residency training in radiation oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the position of Vice Chair in University of Michigan’s Department of Radiation Oncology, achieving tenured professor status in just five years, and now his leadership position at UH Seidman Cancer Center.

High-impact research: Life coming full circle, Dr. Spratt is now among the UH physicians making a measurable difference for others. With over 400 peer-reviewed publications, funding from the National Institute of Health and Department of Defense, and dozens of practice- changing advances his team has led that now are the standard of care in national guidelines, he somehow does it all. This past summer, for example, he and his colleagues published research in the New England Journal of Medicine Evidence to help answer a question that has eluded oncologists who treat men with prostate cancer for years: Who is most likely to benefit from hormone therapy, and who is not?

It’s not a small concern.

“It is chemical castration for men,” Dr.  Spratt says. “Hormone therapy is something many patients dread, so if it’s not going to help them, they shouldn’t take it.”

The answer to the conundrum, it seems, can come from artificial intelligence. Dr. Spratt and others worked with NRG Oncology and ArteraAI to develop a computerized test that helps them weigh thousands of variables when making treatment decisions for men with localized prostate cancer. The research team determined that 60 percent of patients with intermediate prostate cancer would not benefit from hormone therapy.

“People, including myself, have been trying to develop something that predicts the benefit of hormone therapy for decades," Dr. Spratt says. "We’ve tried many approaches, from MRI measures to genomics with both DNA and RNA. But this test is new. Over the next couple of years, I think this is going to become a very commonly used technology across prostate cancer.” 

More to come: “It's the tip of the iceberg,” he adds. “We're expanding into multiple other cancers as we speak, including breast cancer, head and neck cancer and brain tumors. The fact that in under two years we were able to do this with this technology is really just showing the pace of artificial intelligence and what we’re able to achieve. It’s a big feather in the cap for University Hospitals and UH Seidman Cancer Center, but also for our patients, who now have access to this test.”

In fact, the focus on patients is paramount, Dr. Spratt says.

“The inspiration that both drives how I am clinically and drives research comes from interacting with patients,” he says. “Research is to help patients, not about getting grants and papers and things. The goal is to be able to come back to clinic and tell patients, ‘We've really made something that's going to help.’”

Social determinants of health and prostate cancer: Dr. Spratt also spends considerable time researching racial disparities in prostate cancer, which has the dubious distinction of having the greatest disparity of any cancer type.

“Black men are more likely to get prostate cancer and more likely to die of prostate cancer,” he says. “It is not about their genetics. It's not that they’re being resistant to treatment. It's something embedded in social determinants of health. The truth is it’s a byproduct of centuries of structural racism. On average, there is less insurance, less quality care, less standard of care, less PSA screening in African American communities.”

Dr. Spratt says this research, done in collaboration with Randy Vince Jr., MD, MS, a urologic oncologist and the Minority Men’s Health Director at the UH Cutler Center for Men, is crucial to setting new, reality-based narratives and seeking creative solutions.

 “Instead of trying to find some magic drug that probably is cost-prohibitive, we are looking at how we address, acknowledge and overcome these social determinants of health, such as education and poverty? I can tell you right now, if we could improve those, it's going to probably have a greater impact than any new science that's created, even though we obviously want to do both.”

Leadership with results: While not in clinic or conducting research, Dr. Spratt is also managing the burgeoning Department of Radiation Oncology at UH Seidman Cancer Center. Over the past two years or so, he has hired 75 people, including 15 physicians and scores of physicists, therapists and other leaders. As a result, the department’s value for average days to consult is now one of the top performing departments at UH, averaging three days. In addition, the number of new patients treated in 2022 increased by 23 percent compared to 2021 and is expected to increase again for 2023 by over 10 percent.

Dr. Spratt was recently recognized for these and other achievements by UH CEO Cliff A. Megerian, MD, FACS, Jane and Henry Meyer Chief Executive Officer Distinguished Chair, with a “Dinner with the Doc” honor.

Dr. Spratt is quick to credit his growing team for the success they’re enjoying.

“I try to remove the hierarchical feel and have transparency,” he says. “We want to make sure people believe that we win together, and we lose together. The way you succeed is truly by being a team. This is not lip service, but reality. I make up less than 1 percent of the Radiation Oncology team, and our success was achieved by the more than 99 percent of people working together to make this department one of the best in the world. I am the lucky one to work with this incredible team and the larger Seidman and UH teams. A lot of great people have made it happen. Together we can do amazing things.”

Congratulations to Dr. Spratt on his “Dinner with the Doc” honor.

To nominate a physician for this honor, you can obtain the form here.

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