Wells Messersmith, MD, specializes in gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, or cancers of the gut. As the division head of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Division of Medical Oncology, Messersmith is pushing the frontiers of anticancer treatments from the intersection of precision medicine and immunotherapy.
Messersmith and his research partners are developing clinical trials of novel immune therapies, specifically for GI cancers, with a focus on colorectal cancer – the third most common cancer in the United States. He is currently leading a combination immunotherapy trial for colorectal cancer at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, where is also a professor of medical oncology, and serves as associate director for clinical services at the CU Cancer Center.
Below, this prolific yet unassuming oncology powerhouse shares insight about what motivates him, at work and beyond.
What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy harnesses the power of an individual’s own immune system to fight cancer. Patients receive personalized infusions that train their immune cells to recognize and destroy their particular form of cancer. Immunotherapy is generally less toxic than chemotherapy and radiation, and provides longer-lasting immunity to cancer than traditional treatments.
What drives you?
Helping patients with life-threatening cancers drives me to both provide excellent care, and also do research to find better treatments and prevention. My brother survived leukemia after a bone marrow transplant, and the extra 15 years we have had with him has been such a blessing to our entire family.
What led you to specialize in GI cancers?
I enjoyed many different aspects of medicine when I was in training, so the multidisciplinary nature of caring for gastrointestinal patients – working with my colleagues in surgical oncology, radiation oncology, and other specialties – is something I love.
How does being part of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus ecosystem help you further your work and your professional goals?
Taking care of complex cancer patients with such a talented team of doctors and nurses on some days, and working alongside brilliant researchers to develop new cancer treatments on other days, creates a synergy that would not be possible outside of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
When I’m not at work, I enjoy…
Coaching my kids’ recreational sports. Over the last 15 years, I have coached soccer, basketball, and flag football, often with another parent who works at the cancer center. It is a lot of fun!