PNA Spotlight: Dr. Chester Griffiths
Dr. Griffiths is a professor of surgery at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California. Along with Dr. Daniel Kelly, he is chief of endoscopic sinonasal and skull base surgery at the Brain Tumor Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. He was born in New York City but attended medical school at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, where he went on to complete a residency in general surgery and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He is double board certified in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He was kind enough to answer a series of questions from the PNA. Here are his answers.
What inspired you to choose your career path?
My father, Cadvan Owen Grifiths Jr, is a great inspiration, mentor and friend to me. He is a renaissance man with accomplishments beyond medicine and surgery as a lawyer, screenwriter, Naval flight surgeon, Korean War Veteran with the U.S. Marine Corps and a philanthropist supporting plastic surgery clinics at the Christian College of Vellore in India. As a researcher, he had a bench lab at Columbia University and the Rockefeller Institute in New York, where he participated in early cancer immunologic research. He was co-research developer of Rho-D immune globulin (RHO-GAM) to prevent erythroblastosis fetalis (a hemolytic disease of newborns). He was particularly interested in homograft stimulation of the immune system in cancer patients. He was an early pioneer in breast reconstruction, having published submuscular implantation of silicone breast implants for both immediate cancer reconstruction and for cosmetic enhancement in the mid 1960’s, contrary to the practice norm of radical mastectomy as the definitive treatment for breast cancer. With his example, I have been inspired to continue in his footsteps.
Why did you devote your career to cancer research?
I suffered from an undiagnosed aliment as a child and was treated by the doctors of Saint John’s for 3 years between the ages of 6 and 9. Although a diagnosis was never made, I did recover and decided that I would become a physician to care for those in need. To fulfill that promise, I was licensed to practice medicine by the age of 21. The physicians and nurses who cared for me during those difficult times made a lasting impact on me and were the catalyst for my desire to become a physician.
What is the focus of your current research and/or practice?
1. Anatomic basis of minimally invasive transnasal endoscopic skull base tumors with the development of the Anatomic Dissection Laboratory with Drs. Garni Barkhoudarian and Daniel Kelly
a. In collaboration with Dr. Howard Krauss, neuro-ophthalmologist, we were the first to successfully remove an orbital (eye) apex tumor through the nose utilizing endoscopic techniques - in 2001. Since that time, we have utilized these techniques on more than 25 patients.
2. Preservation of Olfactory (smell) function following nasal-skull base surgery
3. Viral impact on the development of head and neck cancer, principally the impact of Human Papilloma Virus
4. Packingless nasal surgical procedures.
5. Centers of Excellence development with emphasis on expertise team building, financial efficiency and patient clinical outcome data analysis.
What brings you to the John Wayne Cancer Institute?
Dr. Daniel Kelly and I collaborated together at UCLA, developing techniques of minimally invasive transnasal skull base surgery prior to his joining the John Wayne Cancer Institute. We have continued this innovative collaboration at the Brain Tumor Center at Saint John’s Health Center. We have performed more than 300 transnasal endoscopic minimally invasive excisions of skull base brain tumors at Saint John’s Health Center. Currently, I am the Chief of Endoscopic Sinonasal & Skull Base Surgery at the Brain Tumor Center.
Tell us about your volunteer work.
Aside from my clinical, teaching and research endeavors, I am on the Board of Directors of the Venice Family Clinic, the largest free clinic in America, treating over 106,000 patient visits (“the working poor”) at year at 10 clinic locations. I have been treating the patients (children and adults) of the clinic for 23 years for aliments involving the ear, nose and throat. Saint John’s has been a strong supporter of the Venice Family Clinic, donating in-kind services for more than 40 years. In addition to medically treating the Venice Family Clinic patients, I and my associate, Dr. Kian Karimi, perform surgical procedures in our operating room at Pacific Eye and Ear Specialists. My colleague, Dr Gregory Frazer, offers free hearing aids to hard-of-hearing patients and Dr. Howard Krauss and Dr. Jeremy Levenson provide vision and eye care. I am so proud to be part of a committed, selfless group of volunteers, corporate, community members and physicians who believe that it is important to care for those in need. This is truly unique.
Although research is a very important mission of a physician-scientist, treating all members of our community trumps that mission as the primary purpose of being a physician. I am so grateful for the healthcare community on the Westside and the philanthropic support from donors for being a great example of compassionate caring with attention to scientific breakthroughs to care for our citizens.
What do you see as the future of your field?
I believe that stem cell application in regenerative therapeutics and molecular genomic driven targeted therapies are the forefront of medical discovery in this field.
Collaborative energies with Centers of Excellence are the driver of innovation and discovery. They are the reason that I and Drs. Kelly, Kesari, and Krauss created the Pacific Neuroscience Institute. Compassion and care are the first hallmark of his mission, followed by dedication to study, discovery and innovation.
Why are you involved with the PNA?
As an associate of Dr. Daniel Kelly, it was a natural to become a supporter of the PNA. I appreciate the PNA’s dedication to raising public awareness of pituitary disorders.