Sep 19, 2018 12:00 AM

Ignacio Garrido-Laguna

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 Director and CEO Mary Beckerle.

Ignacio Garrido-Laguna, MD, PhD, is an HCI physician-scientist specializing in gastrointestinal cancers. He joined HCI in 2011 and is an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah. Garrido-Laguna treats patients with pancreatic cancer, a disease known for having a very low survival rate. “Life expectancy has improved for my patients,” he notes, “but not to the point that we are even close to being happy with that status quo.”

Garrido-Laguna is one of the founding members of HCI’s Translational Scholars, which supports physicians who research cancer. He says he appreciates his patients asking about the latest developments in pancreatic cancer.

“The best treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer is a clinical trial,” he explains. “My patients ask about clinical trials. These folks will not be happy if you offer them standard of care, because they know what the outcomes are with standard of care [for pancreatic cancer].”

Research has been a central part of Garrido-Laguna’s career. After receiving his medical degree from the Universidad de Navarra School of Medicine in Pamplona, Spain, he completed his postdoctoral fellowship at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. While there, he discovered that the tissue around a tumor that provides a cancer cell with nutrition is involved in resistance to chemotherapy in pancreatic cancer. Before coming to HCI, Garrido-Laguna was a clinical fellow at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he worked in the phase I clinical trials program.

A native of Spain, Garrido-Laguna grew up skiing its mountains and appreciates the similarities in Utah’s vibrant outdoor lifestyle. “We do have good snow in Spain,” he asserts. “But Utah’s snow is definitely the best on earth.”

When not enjoying the outdoors with his family, Garrido-Laguna is focused on his goal of finding better treatments for people with pancreatic cancer. “We have an urgent need to improve the outcomes for our patients,” he says.

Garrido-Laguna speaks enthusiastically about his role as a teacher. “Training the next generation of physicians is something I enjoy very much,” he remarks. “It’s part of our mission and I learn a lot when I’m doing rounds with our interns, residents, and fellows.”

He says he is honored to be selected as one of HCI’s first translational scholars. “It represents a great opportunity to exemplify the mission at HCI,” he says. “I think translational research is the paradigm for the future.”

cancer care cancer research clinical trials pancreatic cancer cancer center research program experimental therapeutics

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