Carmen Solórzano, MD, FACS, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), discusss how VUMC uses technology to advance cancer treatments and her current research.
Carmen Solórzano, MD, FACS, shares how technology helps to advance Vanderbilt University Medical Center's (VUMC’s) treatment approach for patients with cancer, as well as what she is currently researching. Solórzano is a professor and chair in the Department of Surgery and the director of endocrine surgery at VUMC. She also holds the John L. Sawyers Chair in Surgical Sciences and was co-chair of The American Journal of Managed Care®’s Institute for Value-Based Medicine® held in Nashville, Tennessee on August 17, 2023.
How is technology advancing the multidisciplinary team approach to caring for patients with cancer?
It's interesting. I can take this question in 2 ways. One is, since the pandemic—you and I are talking here on Zoom—we are now able to have everyone in these tumor board conferences on Zoom. We have continued to do that electronically now on video, and it actually increases attendance. We could invite patients to join us as necessary, although that's not done as frequently.
We're able to share the radiology scans, we are able to share the pathology; everybody can see. Sometimes, consulting physicians on the outside of the hospital could join. It has made it a more inclusive way of doing tumor boards. So that's one way in which technology is advancing the multidisciplinary team approach. But also the other way, obviously, is the new technology, which could be surgical technologies, molecular advances in cancer care, medications, genetics—all of that has led to incredible advances in multidisciplinary tumor care.
At the VICC, at the Vanderbilt Ingraham Cancer Center, we believe that every patient is unique. We try to tailor their treatment in a precise way. What does that mean? Well, some tumors, cancers, may have a particular molecular genetic signature, and if we know that signature by looking at the tumor tissue, we are able to tailor the approach and the type of drug that is used. Some tumors may not respond well to certain treatments, and it will be good to know that.
Technology has been revolutionary, and it still is these days. It's actually hard to keep up on how many new things we have. For example, in surgery, we have minimally invasive techniques, robotics. We also have 3D printing. We can print the tumor and its relationship to other structures ahead of time so that the surgeon can plan ahead.
We have ablative therapies where we burn the tumor. We have pumps that are implanted so that we can deliver chemotherapy in certain ways and in certain organs. Radiation techniques that are excellent for the patient and don't burn the other organs and target just the cancer. So many, many techniques that have made multidisciplinary care so much better.
What are you currently working on that you’re excited to share?
Many of us, in addition to taking care of our patients, I'm a surgeon. So, we see them, we present them in tumor boards, then we plan their treatment, and then we actually do perform surgery. But many of us also do research.
Lately, I have been working on the use of light in collaboration with the Biophotonics Center at Vanderbilt, which is a group of engineers. They use a light to look at tumors, to look at the margins of tumors. Also, most interesting right now to me is using light to find tumors and find a particular gland that is often injured during surgery for cancer in the head and neck.
For example, if you're doing a thyroid cancer surgery, and you're going to remove the thyroid, there's this gland called the parathyroid that could be injured. So, we found that the use of light technique can detect the gland and alert the surgeon that they're about to perhaps injure that gland. We're running clinical trials here at the VICC to try to see how this will help patients in the future. So, that's exciting.
Many of us surgeons that presented at this past conference, as well as the medical oncologists and radiologists, do have research that that they do on a regular basis, including clinical trials.