Naomi M. Sell, M.D. – SSO 2020 Dr. Thomas K. Weber Colorectal Cancer Research Scholar Award
– Describe yourself (Personal background, academic background, interests…)
I am a general surgery resident at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). I just completed two years (2018-2020) of dedicated research in the field of colorectal surgery and surgical oncology with a specific interest in colorectal cancer and surgical prehabilitation.
I am originally from the California Bay Area but have done all of my education and training out east. My undergraduate years were spent at Johns Hopkins University and I subsequently received a Masters in Microbiology & Immunology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 2015 with AOA distinction before heading up to Boston for my surgical training. I am now in the midst of my 6th of 7 years at MGH with plans to pursue a fellowship in colorectal surgery.
– Tell us about any awards and distinctions you have received
I have been fortunate to have received numerous prior awards for my research that has been presented at other regional and national meetings both in medical school and residency. In medical school, I was elected to AOA in my third year. In residency, I was named the General Surgery Consultant of the Year in 2018 by our MGH Emergency Medicine colleagues. My research work in prehabilitation was funded by an NIH T32 training grant and my NCT clinical trial is funded by numerous institutional grants.
– What made you interested in doing work in colon cancer?
Unfortunately, my family does have a history of colon cancer within it and I know firsthand the struggles that my family members have gone through. Therefore when I began residency, I had not originally believed that I would choose a career in colorectal surgery. However, once I rotated on our service here at MGH and interacted with the patients and was able to create personal connections with them based on shared experiences with this disease, I realized that this was my calling to treat these patients.
– Tell us about your past work and research efforts in the past and its significance to colon cancer
Much of my prior work was focused on colon cancer among octogenarians and how we can improve care for that population, which is significant given the growing number of aging citizens within this country paired with a longer lifespan. My latest work on this topic, which is to be published in Surgery next month, introduces the idea that older patients (>80) may have a different phenotype and both medical and surgical treatments may need to be tailored more specifically to their needs.
– Describe the current work you are conducting
My current work is in surgical prehabilitation or “prehab” where I designed and am a co-investigator on a clinical trial purposed to investigate if exercise and nutritional prehabilitation benefits patients with gastrointestinal cancers. Specifically, we are investigating if these prescribed modalities improve surgical outcomes, survival, tumor biologics, and quality of life. The progress of our trial, unfortunately, got a bit derailed by the pandemic but we are hoping to restart this fall.
– What is your mission and goals in the current work that you are doing?
Currently, there is a time window between the date of colon cancer diagnosis and the date of surgery that is not being optimized to its full potential. My goal is to introduce prehab into this time window. During this time, we should be building our patient’s cardiopulmonary fitness and increasing their protein reserves in preparation for the stress of their surgery. Just as runners train for a marathon, we should be preparing our patients. My mission is to determine the optimal components of prehab, personalize them for individual patients, and ultimately prove the benefit that I believe exists.
– What are your goals for your future?
My short-term goals are to successfully complete a residency in June 2022 followed by a fellowship in colorectal surgery. Long-term I plan to become an academic colorectal surgeon with both clinical and research pursuits that continuously try to improve care for patients with colon cancer.
– When did you first know that you wanted to work in this particular field of research, and why were you so passionate about that?
As a former college athlete, I have always been interested in how I can intersect exercise and surgery. The concept of prehabilitation was speculated upon in some of my early readings in residency and I was fortunate to find a mentor who shared a passion for this topic. This helped me harness my focus and work on this particular field during my two years of dedicated research within residency.
While working on prehab and speculating on how exercise might be able to affect tumor biology, the topic of pathologic complete response (pCR) arose. We speculated, could exercise work synergistically with neoadjuvant therapy to promote a pCR? This is entirely pure speculation as there is currently no data to that exists to study this idea, however, it did spark my interest into pCR and led to the research project for which I received this award.
– For those who may not have the scientific background that you do, why is it so important that we all support the research being done in the field of colon cancer treatment and prevention?
It is tremendously important! Despite having great screening tools, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in this country. So much work is still left to be done and research support is critical so that physicians and scientists can continue to make improvements on how this disease is detected, treated, and ultimately prevented.
– How has this award changed your life so far?
I am extremely grateful for this award. It has been incredibly beneficial for my career already in that it has sparked new acquaintances and conversations with other leaders and researchers of colon cancer. My hope is that some of these conversations turn into collaborations to help unite and synergize our efforts to fight this disease.
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