Treatment & Doctors

New Leadership at Brigham and Women’s Bolsters Mesothelioma Care

Written By:
Jun 05, 2014
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
June 5, 2014

The departure of renowned mesothelioma specialist David Sugarbaker, M.D. from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston earlier this year didn’t lessen the hospital’s commitment.
It made that long-standing promise to patients even stronger.

Raphael Bueno, M.D., is making sure of that.

Bueno, who has replaced Sugarbaker as the chief of the thoracic surgery division, reiterated his pledge recently that Brigham and Women’s would remain the country’s most prestigious destination for patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma.

“It’s even better now,” Bueno told “Patients understand that it’s the whole program and not just one individual that makes this the place to come.”
Sugarbaker left after more than 20 years to build the new Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston – bringing his reputation as the well-respected leader in mesothelioma care.

Bueno Wearing Many Hats

Bueno officially assumed the role on June 1, but he has been the acting chief for the last five months, mixing new administrative duties with his surgical and research work. He had been the associate chief of thoracic surgery under Sugarbaker for more than 10 years.

“It’s been busy lately, but it’s been a very rewarding move,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to really optimize the care for a lot of mesothelioma patients. We’re working to make it the best for everyone.”

Since Bueno became chief, Brigham and Women’s designated every Friday as the day to handle mesothelioma patients exclusively, making sure the surgeons, oncologists, radiologists and pathologists all can focus together on the rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

Bueno is a product of the nearby Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did his residency at Brigham and Women’s and joined the thoracic surgical staff in 1996. He worked closely with Sugarbaker for many years, making him the most logical successor.

Bueno also has been a leader in mesothelioma research for more than a decade, working on the prevention and management of complications following aggressive surgery. He has helped move research to the molecular level, creating newer and better diagnostic and therapeutic tools for the disease.

He is currently one of the lead researchers in a Phase II clinical trial at Brigham and Women’s involving neoadjuvant defactinib (VS-6063) treatment for patients with resectable mesothelioma. One of the purposes of the study is to assess biomarker responses from tumor tissue.

Boston Still a Major Destination

“There is much more optimism today about the future of mesothelioma treatment than there was 10 years ago,” he said. “We have a much better understanding of the disease at the molecular level. There are better drugs now, and better ones coming down the line.”

Brigham and Women’s is a partner with the highly rated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a part of the greater Harvard Medical School family. They have partnered to be a leading force in cancer care.

Thoracic surgeon and mesothelioma specialist Abraham Lebenthal, M.D., works alongside Bueno at Brigham and Women’s. Lebenthal also works with the VA Boston Healthcare System. He has been lauded for his work with military veterans, who comprise an unusually large percentage of mesothelioma victims.

“The great patient care is still here. The volume is still here. Patients know that,” Bueno said. “Dr. Sugarbaker has been a great friend and supporter of mine. And don’t take this the wrong way, but mesothelioma patients don’t have to go to Texas to get great care today.”

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