My interest in the pancreas began during my surgical training at the University of Pennsylvania almost 50 years ago. Since then my research activities have involved studies on pancreatic function as well as both acute and chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. After faculty positions at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Missouri where I concentrated both my patient care efforts and research work on the pancreas, I joined the UCLA faculty in 1986. Over the next 10 years, I performed almost all of the pancreatic surgery, recruited and trained a number of pancreatic surgeons, and attracted new faculty in other specialties who were interested in pancreatic disease. And I ran an NIH funded laboratory where we continued to pursue pancreatic research. In 1996, with UCLA’s growing international recognition, I created the UCLA Center for Pancreatic Diseases, which I directed. After the tragic loss of Ron Hirshberg in that same year, Agi Hirshberg in 1997 endowed the Hirshberg Pancreatic Cancer Research Laboratory, with me as its Director. Since that time, largely as a result of Agi’s extraordinary support, my focus has been almost exclusively on pancreatic cancer. And of course in 2015 Agi Hirshberg generously endowed in perpetuity that original Center, known now as the UCLA Agi Hirshberg Center for Pancreatic Diseases.
Over that span of almost half a century, I have seen amazing advances that have made the complex surgery for pancreatic cancer safe when it is done in so-called “Centers of Excellence” where large numbers of patients are treated. I have seen pancreatic cancer diagnosed earlier than it used to be and a substantial increase in the survival and cure rates of the disease. And its non-surgical treatment is more effective than it has ever been. Now largely as a result of the molecular characterization of the disease and the more specific treatments which that suggests may be possible, a cure seems within our reach. It’s an exciting time!