PNA Spotlight: Dr. Ian Dunn
This month’s PNA Spotlight focuses on Dr. Ian Dunn, chairman and a professor of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Dr. Dunn earned his medical degree at Harvard Medical School, then did a postdoctoral fellowship in cancer genomics at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Broad Institute in Boston and then a second fellowship in skull base neurosurgery at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. He did his residency at Children's Hospital/Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He later became an associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School for eight years and director for the Center for Pituitary and Skull Base Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Dunn was kind enough to respond to a series of questions posed by the PNA; his answers follow.
What inspired you to choose your career path?
I was really drawn to specialties in medicine that handle life-threatening or life-altering conditions. Our capacity to improve the lives of our patients is astonishing and humbling, and it drives us to improve every day. At the end of my residency, I became very interested in difficult tumors at the skull base, and the arrival of Dr. Laws to our training program introduced me to the fascinating interplay of complex anatomy and the hormonal landscape that characterizes pituitary lesions.
What is the primary focus of your work/research?
The primary focus of my clinical life is the management of complex tumors in the brain and skull base – pituitary adenomas, craniopharyngiomas, chordomas, meningiomas, vestibular schwannomas, and other tumors. I have recently moved to lead the department at the University of Oklahoma, and so continuing to build our program there is a top priority.
The central themes of my research are the genomic and immunologic underpinnings of cranial base tumors, including pituitary adenomas; and the technical nuances of skull base and endonasal surgery. Of course, doing the surgery well is the primary focus – but we are also at the dawn of a new age of understanding which events are taking place to create and sustain the tumors themselves, and that is also a huge interest of mine.
What do you consider to be the future of your field?
The future will always be pushing to find better ways to improve the lives of our patients – I think it will be especially exciting to deepen our understanding of the diseases we treat in order to expand therapeutic options--in as personalized a way as possible. We should also enhance our focus on the outcomes of our treatment measures for each patient. The incorporation of advanced technology to monitor the status of our patients and to predict tumor behavior is also closer than we think.
What should patients know about your field/what deserves more recognition/awareness?
I think patients should know that real centers of excellence have emerged, and continue to emerge, that consolidate unbelievable expertise that is brought to bear in the care of patients with disorders of the pituitary region. Centers like ours at the University of Oklahoma -- and many others nationally – really prioritize maximizing patient outcomes through depth of experience and continued improvement. But we also fundamentally believe that taking care of patients means studying their diseases as well, and so we are totally committed to expanding our knowledge of comprehensive care of complex problems.
What would you like to convey about yourself to your patients?
I like to let patients know how committed we are to their care, and how available our teams are to them – we give all our patients our email and cell phone numbers, and encourage them to contact us with anything.
In addition, I have a wonderful family – I’m married to Carolyn, an ophthalmologist/hospital executive who can help me understand visual fields (!), and we have 3 kids – Catherine (11), Jack (8), and Carys (6). My twin brother Gavin is a neurosurgeon at Washington University School of Medicine. Many of our patients and families here in Oklahoma are connected to the military in some way -- I’m from a military family as well, which helped instill the value of hard work and service.
Why did you get involved with the PNA and what is the extent of your involvement?
I got involved in the PNA so that I could, with the rest of my colleagues, participate in a forum where patients could have access to a community of committed professionals dedicated to the advancement of patient care and research in the area of pituitary disorders. It is the premiere such community and I’ve been honored to be a part of this group.