By Jill Clendening
The profound impact of R. Daniel Beauchamp, MD, former chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, was deeply evident as his family, colleagues and mentees gathered for a recent symposium highlighting basic research conducted by research surgeons and physician-scientists, all of whom were closely associated with the noted physician-scientist.
Beauchamp, the John Clinton Foshee Distinguished Professor of Surgery, died in November 2022, and the event was held to honor his legacy and to celebrate the achievements of others he inspired, collaborated with or advised throughout his career as a physician who not only served his patients at the bedside but also pursued significant translational research to guide improved treatment for cancer patients.
Over his almost 30-year faculty career at Vanderbilt, Beauchamp was a noted leader in the application of molecular biology, and his laboratory made important cancer research discoveries that advanced colorectal cancer treatment and generated additional investigations.
“Dan’s impact was prodigious, and I think he was most proud of making those around him better and being a mentor to so many surgeon-scientists,” said Seth Karp, MD, H. William Scott Jr. Professor and chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences. “A large part of his legacy will be the importance he placed on surgeons as scientists, as necessary to advance patient care. This day is devoted to that vision and its clear success … It is a testament to the impact one person can have when their goal is teaching and supporting others. I hope this will inspire all of us but especially the students and trainees to understand the fruits of a lifetime in service.”
Beauchamp served as chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences for 17 years until he stepped down from the role in July 2018 to focus on his research. He also served as deputy director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) from 2011 to 2019 and was appointed to the role of vice president for Cancer Center Network Affairs in 2018.
Under his leadership the Section of Surgical Sciences strengthened its national reputation for innovation and advancing surgical care. During his tenure as chair, he supported expansion of the department’s research endeavors until the group reached the top 10 in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
The symposium in Beauchamp’s honor was conceived by James Goldenring, MD, PhD, the Paul W. Sanger Professor of Surgery and vice chair for research in the Section of Surgical Sciences, and was moderated by Naji Abumrad, MD, professor of Surgery and chair emeritus of the Department of Surgery. Both men were Beauchamp’s longtime friends and colleagues.
Guest speakers included:
- Mark Evers, MD, director of the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky, who spoke on “Neurotensin — New Tricks for an Old Hormone.” Evers and Beauchamp were junior faculty members together at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), when Evers began studying the gut hormone neurotensin. He credited Beauchamp for instructing him on molecular biology techniques that have been the foundation of his research.
- Steven Leach, MD, director of the Dartmouth Norris Cotton Cancer Center, who spoke on progress toward “Biomarker Directed Therapy of Human Pancreatic Cancer.” During his time as a VUMC faculty member, Leach partnered with Beauchamp to establish the Division of Surgical Oncology in 1997. Beauchamp was the founding chief of the division. The pair achieved many “firsts” at VUMC, including the first Whipple with portal vein resection and the first lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy for melanoma and breast cancer.
- Robert Coffey, MD, co-director of the Epithelial Biology Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who spoke on “Overcoming Immune Evasion in Microsatellite Stable Colorectal Cancer.” Coffey is the principal investigator for the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE). Beauchamp was an integral part of this work from the beginning, leading one of the GI Spore’s research projects for a decade. Coffey shared the progression of the GI SPORE investigations, including Beauchamp’s legacy research as his team worked to target the MYC oncogene in colorectal cancer. The MYC oncogene is a transcription factor with multiple functions affecting cellular activities.
- Joshua Smith, MD, PhD, associate member of the Colorectal Service of the Department of Surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who spoke on “Precision Therapy in Rectal Cancer: Myth or Reality?” Smith was mentored by Beauchamp as he completed his PhD at Vanderbilt. He recounted having no basic science experience when he first met Beauchamp, which didn’t faze the senior scientist. Smith called Beauchamp when his lab successfully developed an organoid mouse model that mirrors rectal cancer activity in humans. This model is critical in Smith’s ongoing efforts to identify more effective, targeted treatments for patients.
- Co-presenters David Hanna, MD, chief resident in General Surgery at VUMC, and Paula Marincola Smith, MD, PhD, a Complex General Surgical Oncology Fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center, who spoke on “SMAD4-mediated Tumor Suppression of Colitis-associated Carcinoma.” Hanna and Smith were the last surgical postdocs who worked alongside Beauchamp in his lab, and they credited him for his unfailing support. They shared their investigation of the role of the chemokine/receptor pair CCL20/CCR6 in mediating colitis-associated colon carcinogenesis induced by SMAD4 loss.
Beauchamp’s family, including his wife, Shannon, daughter, Bryn Beauchamp, and her husband, Brian Gibson, attended the symposium.
“The science that was presented here truly represents just the best of what Dan put out in the world,” said Shannon Beauchamp. “Taking care of all his patients and working in his lab gave him so much fulfillment. He was a modest man, and he didn’t like to be in the spotlight. He would’ve been humbled but grateful for everybody here who crossed his path along the way. He would say, ‘I’ve learned as much from them as they say they’ve learned from me.’ He was just a great guy.”
The Section of Surgical Sciences has established a cancer research fund in honor of Beauchamp. During the symposium Karp recognized Carol O’Hare, a friend, a cancer survivor and a grateful patient of Beauchamp, for her donation to support the ongoing work that was so important to him.