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Huntsman Translational Scholars: Theresa Werner, MD

Read Time: 3 minutes

Theresa Werner, MD
Theresa Werner, MD

Huntsman Cancer Institute has established The Society of Huntsman Translational Scholars, an initiative that recognizes excellence in the discipline of translational science. Translational researchers extend basic discoveries made in the laboratory and apply them to solve clinical problems and benefit patients through new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. Six physician-scientists were recently recognized by leaders at Huntsman Cancer Institute and the University of Utah with a Huntsman Translational Scholar award.

Recognition as a Huntsman Translational Scholar provides financial support to promote cancer-focused studies that accelerate the development of new treatments. The six awardees will also work as a cohesive team to share best practices and mentor other scientists interested in translational cancer research. “The Huntsman Translational Scholars is an initiative designed to recognize and advance the careers of exceptional scientists who are making strides in translational research,” says Huntsman Cancer Institute Director and CEO Mary Beckerle.

Over the next several weeks we will be publishing a series of articles featuring these exceptional physician-scientists.

Theresa Werner, MD does it all. She teaches, does research, and treats patients. “It really is a great trifectataking care of patients, teaching the next generation of doctors and advancing the science,” she said. “You don’t become a physician if you don’t like taking care of patients.”

Werner is the medical director of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Clinical Trials Office and an associate professor of oncology at University of Utah, specializing in gynecologic cancers. She believes it’s important for oncologists to talk to their patients about research. “I think anyone coming to a cancer institute as well renowned as Huntsman Cancer Institute should expect to be offered a clinical trial.” Werner explains the reason she knows how to treat cancer now is because of the contribution patients made before by participating in clinical trials. 

At any time Huntsman Cancer Institute offers more than 200 clinical trials and Werner says there’s always a need for more patients to enroll in a trial. “I think it requires a change in culture because for some there is a stigma about clinical trials. People think they’re not going to get the best treatment or they’re going to get something experimental. It’s our job as oncologists to explain why a clinical trial is a good option, and sometimes the best option for a patient.”

Werner develops a relationship with her patient’s families as much as the patient and respects the toll cancer takes on a family. “Oncology patients understand the seriousness of their illness and they come to appointments and they listen to their doctor.” And she listens to them. “I’ve learned a lot about the resiliency of the human spirit. It always amazes me how tough these patients are. One of my patients told me she wasn’t going to let cancer define her but rather it will refine her.”

Werner came to Utah from Indiana in 2000 and did her residency in internal medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine where she received recognition for excellence in teaching and clinical care of patients. She completed her fellowship in hematology and medical oncology at Huntsman Cancer Institute and has gone on to receive a leadership award from the National Cancer Institute for her work as an outstanding clinical investigator.

She’s watched every phase of Huntsman Cancer Institute open and is honored to be part of its first group of translational scholars. “I give full credit to the senior leadership of Huntsman Cancer Institute for recognizing those of us who do clinical research and translational research,” she said, emphasizing the support she’s received from Huntsman Cancer Institute in the growth of her career and her development as a leader. “It’s really a wonderful community and collaborative nature reminds me that we’re all on the same team fighting together.”

Cancer touches all of us.