New thoracic surgeon scientist provides translational research and robotic surgery

Authors: Heather Merry, M.D., thoracic surgeon, Providence Thoracic Surgery, Providence Cancer Institute of Oregon
Eric Tran, Ph.D., leader, Adoptive Cell Therapy Laboratory, Earle A. Chiles Research Institute

In September 2022, thoracic surgeon and researcher, David J. Chen, M.D., joined the Providence Cancer Institute Franz Thoracic Surgery team, bringing both his expertise in robotic-assisted thoracic surgery and his passion for cancer immunotherapy research to our collaborative community of scientists and clinicians. His training includes fellowships at National Cancer Institute and New York University Langone Health.

Dr. Chen also is a scientist in the Adoptive Cell Therapy (ACT) Laboratory at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, a division of Providence Cancer Institute, where he focuses on developing cellular therapies for thoracic malignancies.

Providence Cancer Institute of Oregon is one of only two facilities in the state that seamlessly integrates scientific research and clinical trials with patient care.

Nontraditional journey to Providence Cancer Institute

Dr. Chen says his interest in cancer was motivated by personal experiences and by the disease’s mystery and complexity. While combining cancer research and surgery is fairly unique, it is a career path that appealed to Dr. Chen. “There are huge challenges in terms of cancer care and therefore so much to be gained through research. I felt drawn to that and by the human element of treating patients with cancer,” he said.

Dr. Chen also is highly skilled in the technical demands of thoracic surgery. As a fellow in the surgery branch of the NCI, led by Steven A. Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., a pioneer in cancer immunotherapy, Dr. Chen contributed to a bench-to-bedside translational program where he performed experiments designed to identify KRAS mutation-reactive T cells. In the clinic, he performed surgery to resect tumors for use in adoptive T-cell therapy and treated patients with metastatic solid epithelial tumors who enrolled in trials with these same therapies.

“I was able to see translational research happen in a direct manner with tangible effects, where I used my surgical and research skills to help develop treatments with the potential for better outcomes for patients,” said Dr. Chen.

After completing residency in general surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dr. Chen underwent training in cardiothoracic surgery at NYU Langone, where he honed his skills in robotic-assisted surgery.

Providing a unique skill set at Providence

At Providence, Dr. Chen applies his surgical skills to treat patients with benign and malignant thoracic conditions. He has developed an expertise in using minimally invasive video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS) and robotic surgery techniques, most notably for complex lung resections and mediastinal mass resections. 

In the ACT lab, Dr. Chen is launching his research in T-cell receptor gene therapy and exploring whether it can be applied to lung cancer patients. One area of focus is determining if commonly found hotspot mutations in cancer genes such as KRAS and EGFR can serve as targets for this type of therapy. EGFR is a protein present on the cell surface that, when mutated in lung cancer, appears to render some resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy.

Being involved in both the surgical clinic and lab allows Dr. Chen to pursue his passion for translational research. “Treating lung cancer patients with surgery allows us to then analyze tumor specimens in a focused cohort of early-stage lung cancers, which can hopefully lead to new studies and treatments,” he said.

Thoracic surgery services

Providence Thoracic Oncology Program’s team of lung cancer experts – medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, thoracic surgeons and pulmonologists – provides personalized treatment for patients with thoracic cancers of the lung, mediastinum, pleura, chest wall and metastatic cancers of any kind. Many new treatment options have been discovered within the past few years, and ongoing research, including clinical trials, is focused on providing better outcomes for our patients.

Providence has three thoracic surgery clinic locations in Portland and Newberg:

To learn more or refer a patient, visit Providence Cancer Institute Franz Thoracic Surgery or call 503-215-2300.

See our current clinical trials for thoracic cancers and multiple tumor types.

About the Author

The inScope content team focuses on bringing you the latest in clinical news from our team of world-class medical providers and physician leaders.

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