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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. Leaders at HCI and the University of Utah recently recognized three physician-scientists 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 awardees 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.
Randy Jensen, MD, PhD, is a physician-scientist and neurosurgical oncologist who specializes in treating patients with benign and malignant brain tumors.
To make sure his patients have the best possible outcome, Jensen uses a computerized intraoperative navigation system that incorporates information gathered from a patient’s pre-operative MRI. This state-of-the-art device helps surgeons find their way around the brain during surgery, much like a GPS. Intraoperative MRI is Jensen’s favorite tool: it allows him to obtain a real-time surgical MRI to make sure he has accomplished the goal of the procedure.
In addition to spending long hours in the operating room, Jensen oversees multiple clinical trials for patients with brain tumors. Additionally, his laboratory experiments focus on furthering our understanding of brain tumor biology.
“My lab studies how tumor cells are affected by low oxygen conditions. We manipulate the way tumor cells deal with low oxygen conditions to see if this controls tumor behavior,” Jensen explains.
Jensen’s interest in becoming a neurosurgeon began when he was a boy. His grandmother had a stroke, and during her treatment, he met a neurosurgeon and was immediately intrigued. When he became an Eagle Scout, Jensen had the opportunity to attend a dinner with a professional of his choice; he selected a brain surgeon, and his future path was defined.
Jensen graduated from the University of Utah School of Medicine and completed a residency in neurosurgery at Loyola University Chicago, where he also received his PhD. Jensen has been part of HCI since the early planning stages. “I started at University Hospital in January 1998. I moved into my HCI office in 1999 when the first research building opened, started operating at HCI when the cancer hospital opened, and have been using our intraoperative MRI suite ever since the cancer hospital expansion was finished,” he says. Jensen has remained at HCI over the years because he values the way faculty and staff work together to benefit patients. He also appreciates the growth in infrastructure, active faculty recruitment, and HCI’s reputation over the last 20 years.
And in those 20 years, Jensen has learned many lessons.
“My patients have taught me the importance of having the courage to move forward and have faith despite the odds being against good long-term outcomes in many cases,” he says. “I am frequently humbled by their patience and humility when things don’t go exactly as planned.”
Jensen says it’s a great honor to be recognized for his work at HCI and hopes he can live up to the expectations of receiving the award. He says he has great respect for previous and current Huntsman Translational Scholars.
Jensen says he is ultimately driven by HCI’s guiding principle of “the patient first.”
“I find great pleasure in being able to help patients and families through the complicated landscape of brain tumor diagnosis and treatment,” he says. “I am rewarded by their generosity and trust. There is no better job than that.”