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.”

Read the full story at

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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FDA approves Merck immune-stimulating drug for melanoma

i Sep 4th No Comments by

U.S. regulators on Thursday approved the first drug in a new class of cancer medicines that work by stimulating the immune system, a Merck drug developed for treating deadly skin cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration says it granted accelerated approval for the use of Merck & Co Inc’s immuno-oncology drug Keyrtruda, also know as pembrolizumab, as a treatment for patients with advance melanoma, who are no longer responding to other therapies.

The drug is the first in a promising new class of antibody-based drugs that work by taking a brake off the immune system so it can better recognize and attack cancer cells. The drug is designed to help the body’s own immune system fend off cancer by blocking a protein known as Programmed Death receptor (PD-1), or a related target known as PD-L1, used by tumors to evade disease-fighting cells.

“This is the latest in a string of major breakthroughs in melanoma treatment that will galvanize the field of melanoma research and cancer treatment,” Wendy Selig, Melanoma Research Alliance president and CEO, said in a statement.

“Pembrolizumab has demonstrated real potential to save the lives of late-stage melanoma patients who had little hope of survival just a few years ago,” Selig said.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is diagnosed in around 76,000 Americans each year and around 10,000 will die from the disease annually, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The FDA said in a statement that clinical trials of Keytruda showed that it shrank tumors in around 24 percent of patients with advanced melanoma whose disease worsened after prior treatment.

Read the full article on

More than $7,600 raised at Panera Bread in July

i Aug 8th No Comments by

Throughout the month of July, customers at all Pittsburgh area Panera Bread locations were able to drop their spare change in the donation boxes to support the Woiner Foundation’s 3-2-1 Ride.

Thanks to their generosity, the foundation is receiving a check for $7,688.70!

Panera Bread is supporting the 3-2-1 Ride as part of its Operation Dough-Nation® program. In 2013 alone, Covelli Enterprises donated over $19 million to local food banks, hunger relief agencies and other community organizations like ours.

Thank you Pittsburgh and thank you Panera Bread!


Is the cure for cancer inside you?

i Dec 16th No Comments by

Claudia Steinman saw her husband’s BlackBerry blinking in the dark. It had gone untouched for several days, in a bowl beside his keys, the last thing on anybody’s mind. But about an hour before sunrise, she got up to get a glass of water and, while padding toward the kitchen, found an e-mail time-stamped early that morning — “Sent: Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, 5:23 a.m. Subject: Nobel Prize. Message: Dear Dr. Steinman, I have good news for you. The Nobel Assembly has today decided to award you the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2011.” Before she finished reading, Claudia was hollering at her daughter to wake up. “Dad got the Nobel!” she cried. Alexis, still half-asleep, told her she was crazy. Her father had been dead for three days.

The Nobel Foundation doesn’t allow posthumous awards, so when news of Ralph Steinman’s death reached Stockholm a few hours later, a minor intrigue ensued over whether the committee would have to rescind the prize. It would not, in fact; but while newspapers stressed the medal mishap (“Nobel jury left red-faced by death of laureate”), they spent less time on the strange story behind the gaffe. That Steinman’s eligibility was even in question, that he’d been dead for just three days instead of, say, three years, was itself a minor miracle.

In the spring of 2007, Steinman, a 64-year-old senior physician and research immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York, had come home from a ski trip with a bad case of diarrhea, and a few days later he showed up for work with yellow eyes and yellow skin — symptoms of a cancerous mass the size of a kiwi that was growing on the head of his pancreas. Soon he learned that the disease had made its way into nearby lymph nodes. Among patients with his condition, 80 percent are dead within the first year; another 90 percent die the year after that. When he told his children about the tumor over Skype, he said, “Don’t Google it.”

But for a man who had spent his life in the laboratory, who brought copies of The New England Journal of Medicine on hiking trips to Vermont and always made sure that family vacations overlapped with scientific symposia, there was only one way to react to such an awful diagnosis — as a scientist. The outlook for pancreatic cancer is so poor, and the established treatments so useless, that any patient who has the disease might as well shoot the moon with new, untested therapies. For Steinman, the prognosis offered the opportunity to run one last experiment.

In the long struggle that was to come, Steinman would try anything and everything that might extend his life, but he placed his greatest hope in a field he helped create, one based on discoveries for which he would earn his Nobel Prize. He hoped to reprogram his immune cells to defeat his cancer — to concoct a set of treatments from his body’s own ingredients, which could take over from his chemotherapy and form a customized, dynamic treatment for his disease. These would be as far from off-the-shelf as medicines can get: vaccines designed for the tumor in his gut, made from the products of his plasma, that could only ever work for him.

Steinman would be the only patient in this makeshift trial, but the personalized approach for which he would serve as both visionary and guinea pig has implications for the rest of us. It is known as cancer immunotherapy, and its offshoots have just now begun to make their way into the clinic, and treatments have been approved for tumors of the skin and of the prostate. For his last experiment, conducted with no control group, Steinman would try to make his life into a useful anecdote — a test of how the treatments he assembled might be put to work. “Once he got diagnosed with cancer, he really started talking about changing the paradigm of cancer treatment,” his daughter Alexis says. “That’s all he knew how to do. He knew how to be a scientist.”


The Woiner Foundation awards $30,000 to Pittsburgh area organizations

i Dec 5th No Comments by

On Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 at the WPXI-TV Studios, The Woiner Foundation awarded a total of $30,000 to three different groups to support melanoma and pancreatic cancer research and patient care programs.


The foundation awarded $15,000 to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program.  The award was accepted by Dr. John Kirkwood, the program’s director.  The money will directly support the program’s melanoma research initiatives.

The foundation awarded $10,000 to the Alliance of Families Fighting Pancreatic Cancer.  The award was accepted by Marla Wagner, Director of Media for the AFFPC.  The money will be used to support Dr. A. James Moser’s pancreatic cancer research programs.

The foundation awarded $5,000 to the Pittsburgh Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.  The award was accepted by Affiliate Coordinator Andrea Bauer-Kuczma.  The money will be used to support PANCAN’s Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) program.  PALS is a comprehensive and free information service for pancreatic cancer patients, their families and healthcare professionals.

The Woiner Foundation raised the money through its first ever fundraising event, the 3-2-1 Ride, which was attended by more than 400 area cyclists on Oct. 13, 2013 on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.  WPXI-TV is the official media partner of the 3-2-1 Ride.

“We are delighted to present these funds to three organizations which are working tirelessly in the fight against melanoma and pancreatic cancer,” said Rita Woiner, pancreatic cancer survivor and CFO of the Woiner Foundation.

“We look forward to growing our organization, hosting more events, and awarding bigger and bigger checks in the coming years,” said Ric Fera, melanoma survivor and CIO of the Woiner Foundation.

The Woiner Foundation is a Pittsburgh-based 501(c)(3), volunteer-run, non-profit organization founded in 2013.  The organization’s mission is to fight melanoma and pancreatic cancer by increasing awareness, supporting patients, survivors and families and funding important research.

Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States.  It is estimated that in 2013, 45,220 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 38,460 will die from the disease.

Melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers in the U.S. and worldwide, and it’s the most common form of cancer for young adults aged 25-29.  Every eight minutes someone in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanoma but when caught early, it’s almost 100% curable.

The Woiner Foundation reaches GuideStar Exchange Bronze Participation Level

i Nov 15th No Comments by

PrintThe Woiner Foundation today received the GuideStar Exchange Bronze participation level, a leading symbol of transparency and accountability provided by GuideStar USA, Inc., the premier source of nonprofit information. This level demonstrates The Woiner Foundation’s deep commitment to nonprofit transparency and accountability.

“We are working hard to showcase our progress toward our mission and our belief in being transparent about our work, to our supporters,” said Jessica Fera, The Woiner Foundation’s founder and executive director.” As a GuideStar Exchange participant, we use their platform to share a wealth of up-to-date information about our work to our supporters and GuideStar’s immense online audience of nonprofits, grantmakers, individual donors, and the media.”

In order to be awarded the GuideStar Exchange logo, The Woiner Foundation had to fill out every required field of our nonprofit report page on for the Bronze level of participation.

Going forward, the foundation is committed to providing the necessary information to become a GuideStar Exchange Gold Participant.

About the GuideStar Exchange

The GuideStar Exchange is an initiative designed to connect nonprofits with current and potential supporters. With millions of people coming to GuideStar to learn more about nonprofit organizations, the GuideStar Exchange allows nonprofits to share a wealth of up-to-date information with GuideStar’s many audiences. Becoming a GuideStar Exchange participant is free of charge. To join, organizations need to update their report pages, completing all required fields for participation. The GuideStar Exchange level logos, acknowledged as symbols of transparency in the nonprofit sector, are displayed on all Exchange participants’ nonprofit reports.