University of Miami Creates Pioneering Department of Interventional Radiology

In an historic move, the University of Miami has created a Department of Interventional Radiology, demonstrating its leadership in this versatile therapy. The approval comes after nearly eight years of monumental growth in the field, both in research and clinical applications, at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and UHealth – the University of Miami Health System.

Govindarajan Narayanan, M.D., who has built the Division of Interventional Radiology at the Miller School for the past 11 years, has been named chairman of the inaugural department. A professor of interventional radiology, Narayanan has been a pioneer in the minimally invasive therapy and has led many of the specialized clinical applications in interventional radiology (IR) that are now offered to patients at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and UHealth.

“I am very excited about taking the helm of this department,” said Narayanan. “The Miller School and UHealth have set the trend by establishing this department that will pave the way for other academic medical centers to form similar new departments.”

The move to create a distinct interventional radiology department mirrors a similar shift that took place more than 25 years ago across academic medical centers, when radiation oncology became a separate specialty from radiology. Narayanan says the creation of a Department of Interventional Radiology at the University of Miami is “a testament to the evolution and growth of our group as a full clinical service.”

Narayanan credits the support of his former supervisor Robert Quencer, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Radiology, and Miller School Dean Emeritus Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., for helping to elevate the Division of Interventional Radiology to a full department. “This is part of the evolution of medicine,” said Quencer. “It became obvious that interventional radiology, because it is so heavily focused on delivering clinical care, was markedly different from traditional diagnostic radiology.”

“We’re extremely proud that the Miller School is leading the way in this field,” said Goldschmidt. “Raj has the best vision for what can be achieved with interventional radiology, to save and improve the lives of millions of patients with cancer and other ailments using minimally invasive techniques. He has the expertise and skill to lead this team to new heights.”

Interim Miller School Dean Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., sees the new department as a bonus for medical education. “The leadership and vision of Raj will enable us to train the next generation of physicians in this growing field,” he said.

Interventional radiology is a specialty that cuts across different disciplines, with the ability to treat nearly every organ in the body with minimally invasive, targeted treatments. Using CAT scan or other advanced imaging techniques, interventional radiologists are able to direct a catheter through an artery to treat a disease at a specific site internally. At UHealth, the adaptability of IR has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions, such as trauma and vascular interventions. Cancer therapy at Sylvester has been enhanced significantly by the application of cutting-edge interventional oncology with state-of-the-art procedures, such as irreversible electroporation and radiopaque beads. IR has also been used for prostate artery embolization, which involves blocking the blood supply to enlarged prostates — a field in which UHealth has distinguished itself as a leading provider of innovative care.

Steven M. Altschuler, M.D, senior vice president for health affairs and chief executive officer of UHealth, describes interventional radiology as the future of medical care because it involves less risk, reduced pain and a shorter recovery time. “We are offering UHealth patients more options to receive targeted treatments from our expert physicians that allow them to get back to their lives sooner and with less discomfort,” Altschuler said. “Elevating interventional radiology to a full department, with a physician of Raj’s experience, demonstrates our commitment to leading that service for patients across South Florida and the region.”

Cancer patients at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth, have benefited from a form of IR, interventional oncology, in which physicians use catheters or transcutaneous needles to directly expose cancerous tissue to chemotherapy or energy-based treatments such as radiation. Targeting liver and pancreatic cancer using interventional oncology has been a particular focus of Narayanan as he pioneered new therapies for Sylvester patients over the last several years.

“With Raj’s leadership and vision, we have been able to assemble teams of multi-disciplinary cancer experts at Sylvester that offer our patients treatment options that are available at few places in the world,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester. “We are treating tumors we once thought were inoperable, and extending the lives of our patients in meaningful ways. Our world-class interventional oncology group continues to innovate and push the envelope of what is possible.”

Narayanan has built a team of 16 faculty members and eight researchers who provide service to patients at four hospitals and two satellite facilities. Among them is renowned interventional oncologist Riccardo Lencioni, M.D., who joined Sylvester as director of interventional oncology research from the University of Pisa in Italy and was the co-author of a vision statement in 2005 that is widely considered the birth of interventional oncology.

This milestone in the field is being recognized by the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR). “SIR is thrilled about the establishment of this new interventional radiology department at the University of Miami,” said Society of Interventional Radiology Executive Director Susan E. Sedory Holzer, M.A., CAE. “Hospitals and universities recognize the value of IR physicians as leaders in solving the toughest medical problems and are increasingly incorporating the specialty as part of longitudinal care.”

Adding to the importance of the IR program at UM are its research and education arms, both of which have grown measurably. There are now nearly 18 research projects going on, with several grants and clinical trials, all potentially leading to groundbreaking new therapies for South Florida patients. The American Board of Radiology has also elevated the status of IR, allowing medical students to select the specialty as a residency in 2017, a program that will be offered at the Miller School of Medicine.

“I am humbled to be part of this milestone,” said Narayanan. “The time has come for interventional radiology to take its place among the premier medical treatments.”

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