The Blog

Dr. Moser’s robotic Whipple procedure featured in Boston Herald

i Nov 18th No Comments by

The sterile, chilly operating room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is bustling with scrubbed-up hospital staff: Seven nurses and doctors. Fourteen watchful eyes.

And one robot. A half-ton, 7-foot-tall metal and plastic ’bot with four arms.

“OK, dock the robot!” a voice commands.

Nurse Melissa Jones — “Jonesy,” as she is called in the O.R. — is dwarfed by the massive Intuitive Surgical Inc. “da Vinci” robot as she wheels it into position, its four articulated arms looming high over the anesthetized patient. Surgeons had spent 90 minutes cutting away the fibrous remnants of scar tissue left from previous procedures. Now it’s time to begin the nitty-gritty of the five-hour surgery.

Paul Clauss, 77, of Winthrop, is having a potentially cancerous polyp removed from his small intestine before it can wreak havoc on the rest of his organs. The remoteness of the polyp makes it a good candidate for a robot’s precision and dexterity in the confined space within Clauss’ abdomen.

The surgeons also plan to remove his gallbladder, full of painful stones, although given the routine nature of that procedure they admit that using the robot is “a bit like killing a fly with nuclear weapons.”

In this case, the weapons of choice are the 8 mm instruments of the massive, seemingly miraculous yet highly controversial da Vinci surgical robot — which has no shortage of critics, as well as thousands of complaints to the Food and Drug Administration in the 14 years since the earliest version was introduced.

But Dr. James Moser, a surgeon at BIDMC who is performing Clauss’ procedure, swears by it. It has transformed the way he does his job, he says.

“People accept robotics in their life all the time,” Moser told the Herald ahead of Clauss’ surgery. “We have drones — robots blowing up enemies, robots flying planes. This is just a way to improve surgeons’ ability to do minimally invasive surgery.”

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UPMC offers full body skin screenings in primary care offices

i Nov 5th No Comments by

The rates of melanoma have been rising for at least 30 years.

In the United States, about 76,690 new melanomas will be diagnosed this year.  Most skin cancers can be cured if detected early.  The best way to detect skin cancer is to check your skin regularly, about once a month.  You should examine the skin all over your body, from head to toe.

In addition, UPMC primary care physicians are now offering screening for skin cancer as part of your annual physical.  UPMC PCP’s have received specialized training in the early detection of skin cancer as part of a UPMC quality initiative.  As part of your next visit, UPMC recommends screening for skin cancer if you are over 35 years old.

This quality improvement program to increase full body skin exams was developed in conjunction with the UPMC CancerCenter.  A similar program was offered in northern Germany and decreased the death rate from melanoma by 48%.

At your annual visit, please ask for a full body skin examination.

For more information, please contact Wendy Waugh at 412-623-4700 or

(This information was originally published in a flyer distributed by UPMC to all participants in the Woiner Foundation’s 2nd annual 3-2-1 Ride event.)

3-2-1 Ride 2014 fundraising total announced

i Nov 5th No Comments by

The Woiner Foundation is excited to announce that its 2nd annual 3-2-1 Ride event raised $42,800 and was attended by nearly 450 cyclists!

“We are so grateful for the generosity of our sponsors and donors, and for the dedication of our riders,” said 3-2-1 Ride event co-director Ric Fera.

“A 30% increase in funds raised from our first year is fantastic,” said 3-2-1 Ride event co-director Jessica Fera.  “It was difficult at times to pick ourselves up and move forward with the ride after losing my mom to pancreatic cancer in April, but this is what she wanted, and she would be so proud.”

Proceeds from the 3-2-1 Ride will be divided between the Melanoma Center at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, under the director of Dr. John Kirkwood, the Alliance of Families Fighting Pancreatic Cancer, and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

View Event Photos

Our Clubhouse hosts Pancreatic Cancer Support Groups

i Nov 5th No Comments by

Receiving a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can bring with it a whole host of reactions.  It can be frightening and stressful for both the diagnosed and their loved ones.  And you are not alone.

Our Clubhouse would like to invite you to its free Pancreatic Cancer Support Group, where fears, concerns, and hopes can be shared with others who intimately know what receiving and living with this diagnosis means.

The group meets the second Thursday of every month from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.


Our Clubhouse

2816 Smallman Street

Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Call 412.338.1919 or visit for details.

First branch of national Melanoma Tissue Bank to open in Pittsburgh

i Nov 5th No Comments by

From autism to prostate cancer, researchers rely on specialized banks of donated human tissue to explore how diseases attack the body and what might stop them.

But melanoma specialists worry that the absence of a national tissue bank of cancerous skin is slowing new treatments, even as the disease has become the fastest-growing cancer in new diagnoses nationwide.

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute will begin filling the research gap next year, when Pitt is expected to open the first of four branches of the new Melanoma Tissue Bank, organizers confirmed Tuesday.

“It’s hard to underestimate how important the access to these tissues will be in research of the future,” said Dr. John Kirkwood, the Pitt skin cancer program director and a longtime tissue bank advocate, who will help oversee the Pittsburgh branch.

Other branches are planned at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Northwestern University near Chicago and Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, although researchers have yet to announce opening dates.

Pitt and the three other institutions formed a consortium to establish the first national tissue bank for melanoma. Smaller collections exist in hospitals and research institutions based on cases they treat.

Advocacy groups in Illinois and California are helping to raise more than $3 million for the consortium.

Kirkwood said every branch hopes to collect each year from patients who give their consent at least 50 melanoma tissue samples, tiny frozen slivers ranging from the size of a No. 2 pencil eraser to a fraction of that.

Branch directors will make tissue and tissue data available for peer-reviewed research projects around the world, including at the host institutions. Pitt researchers are still sorting out where to house the local branch, which Kirkwood said will need several new employees.

For the 600 melanoma patients treated annually in the Pitt skin cancer program, researchers said proximity to the bank should mean easy access to cutting-edge treatments developed at the school.

About one in 50 people in the United States will develop melanoma, up from 1 in 500 about 25 years ago, Kirkwood said.

“Even though we’ve raised money for the whole bank, our focus right now is getting (Dr.) Kirkwood up and running,” said Susan Steel, 56, a melanoma survivor who founded the Skin of Steel nonprofit outside Chicago. The group partnered several years ago with Aim at Melanoma, a San Francisco research organization, to raise money and plan the tissue bank.

Steel said the Pittsburgh branch will open first because Kirkwood, who has studied melanoma for more than three decades, is a research leader whose work commands international attention.

Publicity surrounding the local bank should bring a brighter spotlight to melanoma and early detection in Western Pennsylvania, said Julie Hudak, 46, of Squirrel Hill, whose husband, Daniel, died of melanoma in 2010.

“If it’s caught too late, there’s a chance of it being in the blood, and the survival rate is grim,” Hudak said.

She will join Kirkwood and other tissue bank supporters to discuss the plans at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Babcock Mansion, 5135 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside. The meeting is open to the public.

Kirkwood said the bank should accelerate progress unfolding in melanoma research, which until 2011 had generated three government-approved treatments for the disease. Six more have emerged since then.

“We have made unbelievable, truly incredible strides in the past several years,” Kirkwood said.

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