Berchuck-Named Gynecologic Oncology Endowed Lectureship Launches
This spring, the "Andrew Berchuck, MD, Gynecologic Oncology Endowed Lectureship" was established in celebration of Dr. Berchuck's "remarkable legacy to the subspecialty of gynecologic oncology and to training the next generation of physicians dedicated to research, education, and patient care."
Andrew Berchuck, MD, the James M. Ingram Distinguished Professor of Gynecologic Oncology, is the third and current chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology (2005 to present) in the Duke Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. An accomplished gynecologic oncologist and researcher, he also directs the Duke Cancer Institute Gynecologic Cancer Disease Group, and is co-director, with Jennifer Plichta, MD, MS, of Cancer Genetics at DCI.
Berchuck joined the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center (now DCI) in 1987. Since day one he’s led a research program focused on the molecular-genetic alterations involved in the malignant transformation of the ovarian and endometrial epithelium. He maintains a clinical practice in surgical and medication management of individuals with ovarian, endometrial, and lower genital tract cancers.
Along the way, he's had the privilege to train about 40 fellows and some 250 residents. And while Berchuck has been at Duke long enough to witness some medical students become residents, then fellows, and eventually partners, the focus of the endowment, he said, is to re-establish and maintain connections with former Division fellows who are no longer at Duke and bring them back to learn about their work and how the training they received at Duke has served them in their careers through the annual oncology lectureship and possibly other events.
It was in that vein that the Division's second chief Daniel Clarke-Pearson, MD, a Duke resident and fellow in the 1970s who went on to lead the Division of Gynecologic Oncology from 1987 to 2005 — was invited to deliver the inaugural "Andrew Berchuck, MD, Gynecologic Oncology Endowed Lecture" on May 31.
Said Ob/Gyn Department Chair Matthew Barber, MD, before introducing the speaker that morning, "As I was thinking about this endowment and Andy, the one word that kept coming to mind was impact. And he has had just an incredible impact on this institution, on the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, on the Duke Cancer Institute, on the field of gynecologic oncology, and on the thousands of patients that he's had the opportunity to care for, as well as (his impact on) many medical students, residents, and fellows, and he's done it in so many ways — as a compassionate caregiver, as an extremely skilled surgeon, as an innovator, as a scientist, as a mentor, as a teacher, as a leader. And, in fact, I would say that Dr. Berchuck really is the archetype of the Triple Threat."
In his speech "Reflections on Gynecologic Oncology at Duke: Lessons Learned” before an audience of about 150 attendees (in person at Duke South Amphitheater and via Zoom), Clarke-Pearson hailed the progress of the Division since its founding in 1972, and Berchuck's contributions toward that progress.
He highlighted the great strides and innovations in research, clinical practice, and mentorship, including major contributions by Duke clinical providers and researchers. He made sure to incorporate anecdotes and photos (some vintage) to tell that story.
Clarke-Pearson first drew attention to milestone observational studies between 1970-1986, including in cryotherapy, estrogen, and endometrial cancer, surgical staging of endometrial cancer, micro-invasive cervical carcinoma, and the prognostic value of peritoneal cytology.
Some of the major figures he cited from that period included:
- Duke Ob/Gyn Department Chair Roy T. Parker, MD, (1964 to 1980), who chaired the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) ad hoc committee that established Gynecologic Oncology as a sub-specialty;
- William Creasman, MD, who was recruited to Duke in 1970 by Parker and established the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Duke in 1972;
- Duke Ob/Gyn Department Chair Charles B. Hammond, MD (1980 to 2002) who had, in 1968, as a clinical associate, founded the Southeastern Regional Trophoblastic Disease Center at Duke, and continued this research, with colleagues Creasman and John Soper, MD — defining low-risk and high-risk groups, multi-agent therapy in high-risk cases, and the role of surgery for primary treatment and management of metastasis.
- Robert Bast, Jr, MD, who, in 1981, identified cancer antigen 125 (CA 125), the first useful serum biomarker for monitoring the course of patients with ovarian cancer. Bast also developed the first murine monoclonal antibodies against ovarian cancer and in 1987 served as director of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Clarke-Pearson next spoke about the period between 1987 and 2005 when he was chief of the Division. He said that during that time the GynOnc faculty expanded to "a critical mass," translational research was stepped up, and Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) clinical trials and leadership expanded. He also drew attention to research collaborations between Berchuck and Bast (Berchuck's mentor), including their report identifying, for the first time, the role of overexpression and mutation of the TP53 gene in epithelial ovarian cancer; work by Berchuck and others leading to the discovery that mutations in the BRCA1 gene is a driver of breast and ovarian cancers; the establishment, by Berchuck and Kelly Marcom, MD, of the Duke Hereditary Breast-Ovarian Cancer Clinic (1995); VTE trials, including pioneering work by himself and Creasman in the prevention of post-operative venous thrombosis in gynecologic oncology; and the Division's forward-thinking mission "to train the next generation of academic leaders."
Other major figures he cited from this period, included:
- John Soper, MD, on faculty from 1985 to 2005, who he lauded as the "surgeon of last resort."
- Gus Rodriguez, MD, on faculty from 1992 to 2001
- Nurse clinicians Lyn Filip, RN, ONS, and Charlotte Gilbert, RN, ONS, who "changed the model of patient care"
Turning to the time of Berchuck's tenure as chief of the Division (2005-present), Clarke-Pearson honed in on Berchuck's work on the molecular epidemiology of ovarian cancer, including co-founding the international Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium (OCAC), being part of an OCAC team that identified 12 genetic variants that increase the risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer, being a member of the National Cancer Genome Atlas Ovarian Cancer Working group that published the first comprehensive genomic analysis of ovarian cancer, and serving on the NCCN Guidelines Committee for Ovarian Cancer and multiple advisory boards.
Looking at the present and the future, Clarke-Pearson named:
- Regina Whitaker, who has spent 35 years managing the Berchuck Lab
- Angeles Alvarez Secord, MD, MHSc, who founded the Endometrial Molecularly Targeted Therapy Consortium, initiated the Duke GynOnc Robotic Program, is global PI on three phase 2/3 trials exploring novel therapeutics in ovarian cancer, and who recently began her term as SGO president
- Laura Havrilesky, MD, the Duke site PI for the U01-funded Cancer Intervention Modeling Network, director of the Duke Ob/Gyn Fellowship in Quality and Safety in Women's Health, director of Fellow Research in Gynecologic Oncology, and co-director of Resident Research, Department of Ob/Gyn
- Brittany Davidson, MD, who directs Gynecologic Oncology Fellowships and is recognized for her work in end-of-life care and teaching communication skills
- Haley Moss, MD, MBA, a healthcare insurance and outcomes researcher and the first-ever director of the Breast and Gynecologic Oncology System of Excellence, U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs National Oncology Program
- Leah McNally, MD, bringing attention to her work in education and clinical research
- Susan Murphy, PhD (director of the Duke ObGyn Basic Science Division) and Stephanie Galliard, MD, as examples of the evolution of the research and care model
- Emma C. Rossi, MD, the newest member of the Duke gynecological oncology surgery team
Words for the Next Generation
Now the Robert A. Ross distinguished professor and chair emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Ob/Gyn, Clarke-Pearson offered some final words of wisdom to investigators and clinicians working in the field of gynecologic oncology.
With patient care and work to improve the lives of patients and their families being the benchmark in the field, he counseled, “Don’t quit your day job." He also stressed the importance of teamwork and advocacy, with a shout-out to Melanie Bacheler and her husband Tim for their annual Gail Parkins Memorial Ovarian Cancer Walk to honor Melanie's late mother and raise awareness of ovarian cancer risk factors, symptoms, and treatment. The event has raised close to $5 million for gynecological cancer research at Duke Cancer Institute over the past 20 years.
Larry Maxwell, MD, a Gynecologic Oncology fellow at Duke from 1997-2000, shared his reflections from fellowship and lessons learned since leaving Duke nearly 25 years ago.
He emphasized that those with successful and often demanding careers as physician-scientists and clinicians would not be where they are today without a robust support system of family, friends, and colleagues. After a distinguished military career at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Maxwell now serves as Chair of Ob/Gyn and president of Women’s Services, Inova Health System in Virginia.
Berchuck has given serious thought to his legacy, and it's not about fame. "I'm not famous. I just show up to work every day, do as much as I can, and then do the same the next day,” he told mentees, colleagues, and supporters, at a reception held May 30 to commemorate the establishment of the inaugural 'Andrew Berchuck, MD, Gynecologic Oncology Endowed Lectureship.'
He continued, "I want my legacy to focus on the trainees I have had the opportunity to work with and mentor. We develop strong relationships with our fellows through considerable time spent in the operating room and clinics caring for cancer patients, often in physically, intellectually, and emotionally demanding situations... It has also been rewarding to mentor fellows in research and to provide career development advice and coaching to prepare them for success. All my partners in the Division and our PAs and NPs share in a joyful commitment to the life cycle of developing the physicians and scientists of the future. Those who follow in our footsteps ARE our most meaningful legacy. They apply our teachings in their practice and then amplify our impact by passing this knowledge and wisdom on to their trainees."
Jane Black, Director of Communications for the Department of Ob/Gyn contributed to this article