PNA Spotlight: Dr. Thomas Beaumont
This month the PNA Spotlight focuses on Dr. Thomas L. Beaumont, a neurosurgeon and Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery at UC San Diego Health. Dr. Beaumont, earned both his medical and doctoral degrees from Wayne State University School of Medicine. He completed a residency in neurological surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a fellowship in skull base and minimally invasive cranial surgery at The Ohio State University. He answered a series of questions from the PNA; his answers follow.
What inspired you to choose your career path?
I have had a lifelong interest in the brain and have always found it both mysterious and beautiful. As a child, I loved complexity and was fascinated by electricity and circuits. When I discovered the brain was a collection of billions of living circuits that makes us who we are, the love affair began. Further, when a family friend became ill and required surgery for an arteriovenous malformation, I was taken by the concept of brain surgery. Nonetheless, I am from humble beginnings and am the first and only doctor in the family. As such, my course to medicine was not direct, but rather more thematic. My mother instilled within me two key imperatives: one must always help those in need; one must always leave things better than the way they found them. Given this, together with the fact that I have always loved to fix things and use my hands, becoming a surgeon was a reasonably logical progression of things.
What is the primary focus of your work/research?
I am a neurosurgeon-scientist who focuses on brain and skull base tumors. More specifically, I specialize in anterior skull base and pituitary surgery, as well as intrinsic brain tumors involving the language and motor areas in the brain. I also have a PhD in genetics and run an active research laboratory, together with my wife who is also a scientist. We study tumor epigenetics with the primary goal of developing new precision therapeutics for brain and skull base tumors.
What do you consider to be the future of your field?
From a surgical perspective, one cannot overstate how much technology continues to change the field. With advanced endoscopic visualization and specialized instruments, we can now safely and more completely remove various skull base and pituitary tumors using minimally invasive approaches such as the endoscopic endonasal approach or “EEA” and endoscope-assisted craniotomies. Similarly, as surgical robotics becomes increasingly more miniaturized, it is my hope that we will have new devices available for cranial surgery in general and for EEA. The ability to perform increasingly effective surgery with less tissue disruption and more rapid recovery will become increasingly more possible.
What should patients know about your field/what deserves more recognition/awareness?
In the field of anterior skull base and pituitary surgery, the unprecedented visualization afforded by the endoscopic endonasal approach allows more effective treatment for both functional and non-functional pituitary tumors, but also lesions involving the pituitary stalk such as craniopharyngiomas. This results in improved outcomes and more rapid recovery by taking advantage of a natural corridor to directly access the pathology without large incisions and brain manipulation. Furthermore, with the marriage of surgery and science, we are on the forefront of breakthroughs that could change the way surgery is performed and perhaps even render it unnecessary. Critical to this new era is the use of Next Generation Sequencing or “NGS” to define the molecular subtype of each patient’s particular tumor. Craniopharyngioma provides a case in point, where a distinct molecular subtype has shown a dramatic response to medical therapy under clinical trial, potentially obviating the need for aggressive surgery.
What would you like to convey about yourself to your patients?
Providing meticulous neurosurgical care to patients is an honor and responsibility that I take very seriously. I am deeply aware of the privilege and treat every patient as though they are family. Being a neurosurgeon is not a job, but rather, a lifestyle in which I use to abilities I’ve been given to do what is right for my patients, regardless of the challenges that may present. I will always strive to do my best for each and every patient and constantly try to do better.
Why did you get involved with the PNA and what is the extent of your involvement?
I completed a fellowship in skull base and minimally invasive cranial surgery. Just after completing the training, my fellowship mentor recommended I get involved with the PNA. Further, treating patients with debilitating diseases such as Cushing’s or acromegaly is tremendously gratifying. All too often, these patients receive suboptimal care and continue to suffer. Here at UC San Diego, we have built a multidisciplinary pituitary program and hope to bring cures to as many patients as possible. It is my hope that the PNA will help convey the message and connect patients with the resources they need.