Dr. David Sugarbaker

Dr. David Sugarbaker was a renowned thoracic surgeon who specialized in the treatment of mesothelioma.

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Dr. Sugarbaker was an internationally renowned mesothelioma expert, who dedicated his entire career to mesothelioma research in the hopes of finding a cure for pleural mesothelioma. His innovative research into new diagnostics and treatments helped countless patients, and his work will resonate for years to come. Unfortunately, Dr. Sugarbaker passed away August 2018, leaving behind a legacy of amazing achievements that changed so many lives.

Professional History

Dr. Sugarbaker began his career at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, quickly becoming an important lead on a number of programs. In 1989, Dr. Sugarbaker was a vital figure in establishing the Tissue and Blood Repository at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, one of the first tissue repositories in the United States, which has led to great collaborative research projects.

One of his most notable contributions through his time at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, though, is the development of the International Mesothelioma Program in 2002. The program is the largest of its kind, created with one main goal: finding a cure for mesothelioma. The program brings together leading researchers to develop cutting edge treatments, improve diagnostic methods and screenings, and overall better understand the disease and how it develops. The program continues to be an important research center today, and has helped many patients and their families through such a difficult diagnosis.

In 2014, Dr. Sugarbaker moved to Texas with the hopes of building a similarly expansive program through the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Sugarbaker had been working as the director of the Lung Institute, the first comprehensive, multi-specialty program in Texas developed under a partnership with Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center and the college. The institute includes experts in a number of specialties, like medical oncology, and also relies on Baylor’s internationally recognized genome sequencing and genetic programs. The Lung Institute treats patients from around the world facing everything from asthma to mesothelioma with the latest treatments and advanced technology. The institute also heavily focuses on research through collaboration among different specialties and conducting clinical trials.

Dr. Sugarbaker also took care to share his expertise with others and help educate future doctors. With board certifications in both the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, his expertise in surgical innovation was profound. With that knowledge, he developed special fellowship programs in thoracic surgery and minimally invasive thoracic surgery, as well as created a visiting scholar program for thoracic surgery.

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Clinical Interests and Research

As a leading lung disease and mesothelioma surgery expert, Dr. Sugarbaker had several research areas he was specifically interested in and focused on. These special interests have also influenced the direction of his own clinical research and clinical trials he collaborated on.

Dr. David Sugarbaker's Medical Areas of Interest
  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung volume reduction surgery
  • General thoracic surgery
  • Video-assisted thoracic surgery
  • Esophageal cancer

Through his research, Dr. Sugarbaker is most well known for creating a “trimodal” treatment approach for malignant mesothelioma. The treatment plan consists of aggressive surgery (either an extrapleural pneumonectomy or a pleurectomy) with chemotherapy and radiation. His technique, combined with his skills and experience, has led to improved survival for many mesothelioma patients.

Dr. Sugarbaker and his team also explored genetic mutations in mesothelioma patients, focusing on better tailoring treatment drugs for an individual patient to improve life expectancy. In addition to mesothelioma, Dr. Sugarbaker has also been involved in various clinical trials and treating patients with congenital chest deformities, esophageal cancer, and other lung conditions.

Selected Publications

New Concepts in the Treatment of Malignant Pleural MesotheliomaAnnual Review of Medicine. February 2018;69. doi: 10.1146/annurev-med-041316-085813

Clinical indications and results after chest wall resection for recurrent mesothelioma. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. December 2012;146(6):1373-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcvs.2013.07.012

Phase I to II Study of Pleurectomy/Decortication and Intraoperative Intracavitary Hyperthermic Cisplatin Lavage for Mesothelioma. Journal of Clinical Oncology. April 2006;24(10):1561-1567. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2005.04.6813

Macroscopic Complete Resection: The Goal of Primary Surgery in Multimodality Therapy for Pleural Mesothelioma. Thoracic Oncology. February 2006;1(2):156-157. doi: 10.1016/S1556-0864(15)31536-7

Prevention, early detection, and management of complications after 328 consecutive extrapleural pneumonectomies. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. July 2004;128(1):138-46. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcvs.2004.02.021


For all of his contributions in the medical field, Dr. Sugarbaker received special recognition throughout his career. He was annually named as one of “America’s Top Doctors” since 2002 by Castle Connolly, receiving special distinctions in 2007 and 2009. His work was also honored with several awards.

Dr. Sugarbaker’s contributions to the mesothelioma community and field of oncology at large will have a lasting impact, and hopefully, help lead other mesothelioma researchers to a cure one day.