UNMC News

Harvard Medical School physician-scientist named to key UNMC cancer post

Dr. Sarah Thayer to lead cancer surgery for Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center

Sarah Thayer, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally recognized physician-scientist from Harvard Medical School, will be joining the University of Nebraska Medical Center to lead cancer surgery efforts and have a significant leadership role in the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.

Dr. Thayer will start May 1 as associate director for clinical affairs and physician-in-chief for the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. She also has been appointed Merle M. Musselman Centennial Professor of Surgery and chief of surgical oncology at UNMC.

“This is a prominent example that the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center will attract the brightest minds in cancer care and research who will look to take advantage of our world-class infrastructure and collaborate with what is already an outstanding team,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.

“It speaks to our commitment to excellence that we would recruit someone of Dr. Thayer’s caliber,” said Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center Director Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D. “It also speaks to our rising profile that she would choose to be a part of what is happening here in Nebraska.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to realize what the very best of cancer care can be,” Dr. Thayer said. “I’m extraordinarily excited and honored to be part of this innovative cancer center and to be working with the wonderful intellectual powerhouse that already exists. There’s a great synergy between clinical care and scientific progress that works really well at UNMC – and we believe that translation between the two is where our next inventions and innovations in patient care will come from.”

Dr. Thayer comes to UNMC following a 13-year stint at Harvard Medical School and its teaching hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital. She has served as the W. Gerald Austen Scholar in Academic Surgery since 2002 and as director of the pancreatic cancer biology lab since 2008.

“In Dr. Thayer we welcome not only one of our nation’s top cancer researchers, but also a surgeon who loves the intellectual and technical challenges of her craft,” said David W. Mercer, M.D., chairman and the McLaughlin Professor of Surgery in the department of surgery at UNMC and senior vice president for medical services for the medical center’s clinical enterprise. “Everything she does is geared toward changing patients’ lives for the better, challenging existing paradigms to set new standards in cancer therapy.”

Dr. Thayer has been continuously funded since 2003 and has been part of five National Institutes of Health research grants, three as overall principal investigator.

Dr. Thayer is an active surgeon with a clinical and research focus on pancreatic cancer. Clinically, she specializes in cancers of the breast and gastrointestinal system which include the stomach, duodenum, small bowel, bile duct, and colon.    

Said Bradley Britigan, M.D., dean of the UNMC College of Medicine and president of the medical center’s clinical enterprise: “She is what we call a ‘triple-threat,’ someone who excels in all three areas of academic medicine: education, research and clinical practice.”

Clinical enterprise CEO Bill Dinsmoor called Dr. Thayer, “a world-class physician-scientist who will help lead our translational research efforts from lab to bedside. We are thrilled to have her joining our clinical team.”

Dr. Thayer’s specialty is pancreatic cancer, already an area of strength for UNMC. Its 2012 and 2011 Scientist Laureates, Surinder Batra, Ph.D., and Tony Hollingsworth, Ph.D., also are highly regarded pancreatic cancer investigators. Dr. Thayer currently has a $2 million pancreatic cancer research project funded by the NIH’s National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Thayer arrived on the national scene with a 2003 publication in the journal Nature in which her work revealed the role of a developmental gene (Shh) as an early initiator in pancreatic cancer. Later, her group was the first to categorize and classify three distinct forms of pancreatic ductal lesions and their role in regeneration and cancer. In 2010, her team identified a novel ductal compartment and named them “pancreatic duct glands.”

As chief resident at Harvard, Dr. Thayer was honored for excellence in clinical teaching in surgery. She was valedictorian of her medical school class at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and earned her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Cornell University. She also holds degrees from Earlham (Ind.) College and Georgetown University.

Dr. Thayer is an avid horse rider and enjoys competing in dressage events.

The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer center -- a distinction held by only 68 centers in the country. It is the only NCI-designated center in the state of Nebraska. The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center is also one of the 13 founding members of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), an alliance of the world’s leading cancer centers. This recognition means the most current and innovative treatment options are available to cancer center patients through the integration of cutting-edge research into state-of-the-art care. Cancer center physicians and scientists work together to quickly translate discoveries made in the laboratory into innovative treatments for the patient.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu and follow us on social media.

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Tom O'Connor
UNMC Public Relations
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Kalani Simpson
UNMC Public Relations
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