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By Ginger Hall Carnes
When a patient is cared for by Michael A. Liss, M.D., M.A.S., he sees a physician whose participation in clinical research trials brings additional insight into urologic cancer treatment.
Early diagnosis is the common thread of his research. Dr. Liss obtains samples from patients in his clinic and immediately shares them with collaborating researchers. “A team science approach can result in more ideas and faster results,” he said.
Dr. Liss joined the Department of Urology at the Long School of Medicine in 2014 after earning his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin and then spending six years at the University of California in Irvine studying laparoscopic and robotic urology under world-renowned surgeons. He spent another two years training specifically in urologic cancer fellowship at UC-San Diego, where he also earned a Master’s Degree in Clinical Research.
His training made him a perfect fit to become the principal investigator for SWOG, formerly the Southwest Oncology Group. SWOG is a member of the National Cancer Institute National Clinical Trials Network where the major focus is on implementation of translational clinical trials to patients. Dr. Liss said, “In this capacity, I help review clinical trials with our doctors to open the newest cutting-edge research here in San Antonio.”
His research now encompasses early detection of prostate cancer and kidney cancer as well as the interaction of host-microbiome in cancer development and treatment.
“Prostate cancer is one of the only cancers where you sample biopsy an organ without a defined target. I’m trying to change that mindset and provide improved image detection at a lower cost,” he said. Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, the plan is to take a screening scan, which is less expensive than a full MRI, then use software to check for suspicious areas. Along with other biomarkers, this technology has the potential to change the field of prostate cancer detection.
With kidney cancer, Dr. Liss and his team are developing drugs designed to shrink the tumors and use MRI spectroscopy to see chemical changes inside tumors. “I can use imaging as a biomarker to understand if drugs are working inside the tumor at a much earlier time,” he said. The SA Cancer Council has funded the pilot study.
Lastly, Dr. Liss has developed clinical trials for all phases of prostate and kidney cancer as well as embarked on a new field of research investigating the microbiome. “Each person has a different microbe world living within us that may be harnessed for early cancer detection and treatment,” he said.
Dr. Liss enjoys practicing with his colleagues at the Long School of Medicine because “there’s a culture that allows you to take an idea and put it into clinical practice fairly quickly.”