Pathology chair emphasizes academic medicine

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Sanford H. Barsky, M.D.

Sanford H. Barsky, M.D., has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for "distinguished contributions to the field of tumor biology and metastasis." Photo by Theresa Danna-Douglas

With the goal of raising the bar in academic medicine, integrating digital pathology and building the research function at the School of Medicine, Sanford H. Barsky, M.D., hit the ground running since taking over as chair of the pathology department last fall.

Story by Anne McMillin, APR

Barsky is a well known, highly regarded and entrepreneurial breast cancer researcher who also serves as vice president of academic liaisons and chief of pathology at the Nevada Cancer Institute.

"I am delighted to be at the University of Nevada School of Medicine and Nevada Cancer Institute to develop academic pathology and the challenges and opportunities afforded me here," he said.

Barsky, who has both a strong research and clinical background, will lead the effort to develop further the research and clinical missions of the pathology department throughout Nevada in addition to growing its teaching mission.

"We are constantly in the mode of the dynamic and ongoing process of discovery," said the avid believer in academic pathology. "Everything we teach and practice is based on previous research and discovery and we need to understand where that body of knowledge comes from."

He believes that the most important branch of medicine is pathology because it is the bridge between basic science and clinical medicine.

"My clinical strategy is to stop the mass exodus of pathology material out of the state and develop diagnostic and academic experts here in Nevada for Nevadans," Barsky said. He plans to do that by forming liaisons with other academic institutions, including Nevada Cancer Institute and the Whittemore Peterson Institute, to create in-state pathology expertise for clinical applications.

Barsky, who has also reached out to other academic and medical institutions across Nevada to build research collaborations, will build his department's research activities through joint and individually initiated extramural support with these new partners, tapping into existing grant programs for funding and taking full advantage of grant programs to underserved states like Nevada.

Barsky is a pioneer in digital pathology and will initiate a virtual slide microscopy diagnostic consultative service throughout the state.

"There are opportunities here because these services are underdeveloped at the medical school and in Nevada," he said. "Our challenge is to develop them where they haven't existed. And the challenge is to develop them with limited resources."

Barsky's personal research interests focus on the molecular mechanisms of inflammatory breast cancer and lung carcinoma metastasis. Using mouse models, he is looking at why cancer often returns after a two-month to 20-year absence, called latency. If latency could exist forever, cancers could be cured.

"When cancer comes back, it is usually fatal," said the pathology chair. "Therefore the causes for the release of latency need to be understood."

By examining his unique model of inflammatory breast cancer and the tumor lymphovascular embolus, as well as the circulating tumor cells which it gives rise to, Barsky hopes to discover causal factors of latency.

He hypothesizes that chronic inflammation from stress may affect latency which is why the Whittemore Peterson Institute's recent announcement pointing to a retrovirus as a possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome opens up exciting possibilities for new collaborations.

Barsky was part of a team that published a paper on transgenic mouse mammary tumors with direct relevance to human breast cancer in the Oct. 22, 2009 issue of the scientific journal Nature.

The article, "Pten in stromal fibroblasts suppresses mammary epithelial tumors," shows that a key signaling pathway that operates in mammary gland connective tissue cells helps to suppress the development of mammary tumors.

This study is important because it helps tease apart the complex links between tumor microenvironment and the development of cancer.

Barsky has since published in Molecular Cancer Research and Oncogene further findings in human breast cancer research.

Barsky comes to Nevada from Ohio where he served as The Donald A. Senhauser Endowed Chair of Pathology, chair of the pathology department and chief of pathology services at The Ohio State University College of Medicine since 2004.

He has given more than 180 presentations and served as principal investigator on numerous National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, National Cancer Institute and private foundation research grants and projects.

Barsky, who is board certified in anatomic and clinical pathology, earned his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh, completed residency training at Harvard Medical School and a research fellowship with the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health.