Dr. Farzad Alemi

Expert Exchange

Waging the War Against Pancreatic and Liver Cancers

Dr. Farzad Alemi is an assistant professor in the department of surgery at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a practicing Hepato-Pancreato Biliary (HPB) surgeon at the Kansas City VA Medical Center, Truman Medical Centers, and Saint Luke’s Hospital.  Dr. Alemi is working to improve both the quality and quantity of life in patients diagnosed with pancreatic, liver, and bile duct cancers.

Alemi received his M.D. from the Stanford University School of Medicine, and completed his residency at the University of California, San Francisco. While there, he spent two years performing basic science and translational research at the San Francisco VA. His work involved examining bile acid receptors and identifying how they cause common symptoms of pancreatic and liver cancers. He also studied the use of new techniques of burning tumors, a surgical process called ablation, to treat cancer patients.

Alemi has been involved with the VA since the completion of his residency, and remains particularly fond of the organization. “Performing research at the VA is extremely rewarding,” he states.  “It humbles me that those [veterans] who have given so much already for our country are so open and willing to continue giving back.”  

The VA employs a unique strategy towards research, principally in terms of sample collection and funding.  Veterans diagnosed with various diseases “give back” by donating cell and tissue samples to the VA. Scientists then use the samples to examine how diseases grow and progress. The donations are an essential part of VA research, as they give scientists ready access to a plethora of samples and enable the discovery of novel methods to fight disease.

In addition to cell and tissue sample donations from veterans, the VA receives funding from the Department of Defense in addition to its own internal funding. This allows researchers to pursue “high-risk, high-reward” projects that are not guaranteed to lead to clinical discoveries or publications, but still hold potential to revolutionize the medical field. “Oftentimes, in research, you are required to have publications or outcomes immediately after you perform a project.  And sometimes, you don’t have those results in basic science,” Alemi explains.  “The VA funding allows scientists to do that [research] without the pressure of losing grant money or losing their funding.” 

The VA’s unique combination of sample donations and funding allows scientists to think “outside-the-box” in ways that promote the discovery of innovative disease-fighting mechanisms. “Having been within the system, I can tell you that absolutely, some of the most ground-breaking, cutting-edge research actually happens at the VA,” asserts Alemi.

On a national level, the VA sponsors over 150 active research projects, ranging from cardiology to schizophrenia.  Kansas City’s VA Medical Center focuses its research and developmental studies on biomedicine, health services, clinical and cooperative studies, and rehabilitation.  The center boasts an entire wing dedicated to basic science laboratories and translational research, making the VA an important resource for veterans and citizens in the Kansas City region.