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Huntsman Translational Scholars: Howard Colman, MD, PhD

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Howard Colman, MD, PhD
Howard Colman, MD, PhD

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) 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 HCI 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 HCI CEO Mary Beckerle.

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

Howard Colman, MD, PhD, is a physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute, specializing in the treatment of brain tumors and the diagnosis and management of neurologic complications of cancer. He is the director of medical neuro-oncology at HCI and a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Utah.

Colman earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Washington University in St. Louis. He completed his residency in neurology at the same institution, where he served as chief resident. Colman then became a neuro-oncology fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, where he remained for eight years as a faculty member.

HCI recruited Colman in 2010. He chose to work in Salt Lake City because he recognized HCI’s many strengths and valued the opportunity to build on the excellent existing neuro-oncology program. “I saw the chance to collaborate with existing clinicians and investigators at HCI and the University of Utah, and specifically to bring additional clinical trial opportunities to our patients,” he says. “Brain tumors are relatively rare compared to many other cancers, and effective treatments are limited. This is an area of active research, and what we know today is that optimal care of brain tumor patients requires an experienced multidisciplinary group, much like the neuro-oncology team we have at HCI.”

Colman was also drawn to HCI because he recognized that the exceptional expertise and kindness of its staff, combined with an outstanding team of providers, results in the best possible medical care for patients while providing a nurturing environment for patients’ families.

“We have built a community of support for our patients with rare brain tumors,” he says. “We offer specialists for scheduling and coordination of care, neuro-oncology-specialized social workers, pharmacists, financial counselors, and a brain tumor support group for patients and families.”

In 2016, the World Health Organization re-assessed the classification of brain tumors based on new information gathered over the years. It is now recognized that different subtypes of brain tumors exist and that each should be treated differently. Colman says one of the most encouraging developments in neuro-oncology is the breadth of new treatments that have become available. “When I first started, treatment choices were limited to approaches based on radiation and chemotherapy. The next wave of therapeutic options included targeted therapies; in the last five years, we have been testing new immunotherapies where we use the patient’s immune system to target and kill tumors.”

Colman is quick to credit those patients willing to participate in clinical trials for many of these new treatments and discoveries. “Being able to offer a clinical trial to a patient with an aggressive, difficult-to-treat tumor is a win-win scenario. Patients understand their situation is challenging. While they request an accurate diagnosis and value straightforward, honest, opinions, they also welcome hope. Patients participate enthusiastically in studies that may benefit them directly or that have the potential to prolong the lives of other patients in the future.”

Colman is honored to be among the first Huntsman Translational Scholars, saying, “I think this award is a recognition of HCI’s mission to improve the care and treatment of cancer patients. I think it is a great step forward to recognize and support clinician-scientists in a way that allows them to devote time, energy, and financial resources to further clinical and translational research and to identify new and more effective therapies for patients.”

Cancer touches all of us.