Dr. Ghassan Abou-Alfa
Professor Ghassan Abou-Alfa joined Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in 2001. He specializes in treating patients who have primary liver cancer and bile duct tumors. Professor Abou-Alfa is the Chair of the National Cancer Institute Hepatobiliary Task Force. His work focuses on investigating and testing novel targeted therapies in clinical studies and advocates for greater awareness of the disease’s global impact. He majored in biology at the American University in Beirut (AUB) and earned his medical degree there as well. In 1992, he joined the Yale School of Medicine for postdoctoral training.
Professor Abou-Alfa completed his fellowship and joined the Yale faculty in 2000. At Memorial Sloan-Kettering he started focusing on primary liver cancer — cancer originating in the liver. Liver cancer affects is a global disease with major incidence in China. It is one of the top five cancers worldwide. While it is not common in the United States, its incidence is increasing due to the silent epidemic of hepatitis C virus witnessed in the last few decades, the rise in the number of people with morbid obesity and diabetes, and the persistence of alcoholic cirrhosis — all risk factors.
Professor Abou-Alfa has taken on an advocacy role because research funding has lagged despite the worldwide impact of this disease. Liver cancer does not have a public-figure spokesperson raising awareness, and there is not much knowledge about it among patients and the public. One step he took to address this was co-authoring, with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center hepatobiliary surgeon and chairman of surgery at Penn Medicine Professor Ronald DeMatteo, a book in lay language called 100 Questions and Answers About Liver Cancer, now in its fourth edition. Professor Abou-Alfa also co-authored a similar book in Arabic with Dr. Ashraf Omar from University of Cairo, that is awaiting to be published. Professor Abou-Alfa also co-authored a similar book on biliary cancers with Professor Eileen O’Reilly, Winthrop Rockefeller Endowed Chair of Medical Oncology.
Professor Abou-Alfa is a major contributor to the field’s research. His research focus is on incorporating small biological molecules into standard cancer therapies. In recent years, his group at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center led the initial efforts evaluating sorafenib (Nexavar®) in primary liver cancer. Sorafenib was ultimately approved by the FDA for that indication in 2007. Professor Abou-Alfa more recently his group at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center let the efforts evaluating cabozantinib (Cabometyx®) which was approved by the FDA for the liver cancer indication in January 2019. As an institution, they are proud to be the leaders of several global efforts of clinical trial in primary liver cancer. Some of this work was proudly supported by the National Cancer Institute. Professor Abou-Alfa continues to lead several international efforts and is involved in conducting clinical trials with colleagues around the world, especially in Southeast Asia, which helps to understand the challenges of managing a disease with varying risk factors, in different regions of the world.
Professor Abou-Alfa has also spearheaded many projects globally since 2006. Under the auspices of the Elmer and Mamdouha El-Sayed Bobst International Center, now headed by former Chair of Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Department of Surgery Professor Sir Murray Brennan, Professor Abou-Alfa, helped established a strong relationship with many institutions especially in Asia, the Gulf and the Middle East. Such efforts include ongoing faculty exchange and a monthly video-link conferencing, with several of its proceedings are already published in peer–reviewed journals. Such joint collaborations have been very successful and led to the development of the first joint tissue bank with a shared database in the Middle East. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has also led multiple first in its class training course for oncologists that is offered on competitive basis and has already featured in Middle East, Gulf, and soon in China. The joint programs also offer supported fellowship opportunities for excelling medical graduates.