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News from UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

We're committed to keeping you in the know about developments and discoveries at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. From groundbreaking clinical trials and innovative treatment approaches, to stories about people and how they persevere, this newsletter is your source for subjects that inform and inspire.

Check out the latest stories below, and be sure to subscribe for more.


Robotic Whipple Surgery

A New Perspective on Immunology

Bridges of Trust

World-Class Cancer Care


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Robotic Whipple Surgery

Beyond pancreatic cancer

Robotic Whipple Surgery

The Whipple procedure is a complex operation that involves removing part of the pancreas and small intestine, the gallbladder, and the bile duct. The procedure effectively remodels the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The surgeon performing it must have extensive experience and expertise.

The Whipple procedure is the most common operation for pancreatic cancer, but the technique is also effective for the surgical treatment of other cancers in this area. By removing cancerous tissue and reconstructing the digestive system, the surgeon can create a healthier GI tract.

At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, many Whipple procedures are minimally invasive and robotically assisted rather than “open" surgeries. For the robotic Whipple, the surgeon makes several small incisions in the abdomen and then uses a robotic surgery assist device to perform the procedure.

Open surgery requires a large incision and a hospital stay of up to 10 days. But because the incisions from robotic surgery are small, recovery is usually faster and with less pain. The robotic Whipple also typically results in fewer complications.

Hillman is one of just a handful of centers performing the robotic Whipple procedure. Qualified Hillman patients have access to this advantageous option. UPMC surgeons pioneered the procedure and perform more robotic Whipples than any other surgical team in the United States.

A New Perspective on Immunology

Many articles in Discovery are about the ability of T cells to kill cancer cells. But Tullia C. Bruno, PhD, studies B cells and how they affect T cells in the tumor microenvironment, specifically within hubs known as tertiary lymphoid structures.

Both T and B cells are lymphocytes within the adaptive arm of the immune system. Adaptive immunity is important for tumor-specific targeting and immune memory. T cells are responsible for direct tumor targeting, and B cells produce antibodies to invasive pathogens and cancer cells. And T and B cells communicate to maximize immunity against invading pathogens and cancer.

Dr. Bruno studies how to amplify B cell responses and tertiary lymphoid structure formation in cancer patients to complement current immunotherapies. This can open up new immunotherapies for patients with solid tumors.

“Like everyone else, I started out studying T cells, but I'm now a B cell convert," Dr. Bruno says.

An Erie native, Dr. Bruno is an assistant professor in the Department of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh and a faculty member in the Tumor Microenvironment Center and the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Her overall research objective is to develop a B cell-specific immunotherapy in the next five to 10 years.

Dr. Bruno also engages in multiple community outreach initiatives. She created an immunology-focused course for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Pittsburgh so community members can learn about the immune system, cancer, and immunotherapy.

By studying the basics of the immune system and its interplay with cancer —including how tissue samples from patients can help researchers learn about immunity to cancer and how to fight it — people can gain a greater understanding and encourage others to participate in research. And because many classes are available online, people in the Erie area (Dr. Bruno's hometown) can also explore the world of immunology in this engaging way.

Bridges of Trust

Dr. Evans

Steven Evans, MD, is a cancer surgeon at UPMC and vice chairman of the Department of Surgery at UPMC Shadyside. He is also a member of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center's Committee for Health Equity and Community Outreach & Engagement.

The committee works to identify problems and disparities affecting western Pennsylvanians. The goal is to implement changes to improve health outcomes.

“UPMC Hillman has always been an advocate for raising health equity," Dr. Evans says.

“In a lot of ways, the pandemic has allowed us to reach more people via virtual support groups and telemedicine visits. It's important for people to hear us having these conversations about care and actually getting to experience it themselves. We care about each individual patient's health journey and outcome. Sometimes, building health equity in communities starts with one person at a time."

“The challenge is to make the connection with communities that are most disaffected, adversely, with outcomes of all cancer — especially underrepresented folks." — Steven Evans, MD

World-Class Cancer Care

You can depend on UPMC Hillman Cancer Center for the comprehensive, compassionate care you prefer. For questions about care or to schedule an appointment, please call 412-647-2811 in the Pittsburgh region or 814-836-2600 in the Erie area.

UPMC accepts most major insurers, including Aetna, BCBS of Western NY, Cigna, Highmark*, United Healthcare, and UPMC Health Plan. If you have questions about access, please call 1-855-646-8762 in the Pittsburgh region and 1-855-746-8762 in the Erie area.

*Highmark members with narrow-network plans have limited in-network access to UPMC. All photos taken before universal masking and distancing.

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