Lewis R. Roberts, M.B.Ch.B, Ph.D.

What fuels your excitement for research?

It's definitely the aspect of discovery that I love. Research provides me with the opportunity to discover new things and then directly translate them to patient care.

During my residency and fellowship at Mayo Clinic, I began to focus my research efforts on liver cell injury and death, and that interest has carried through to my current work on liver cancer.

I see patients in the clinic and many of them choose to participate in our clinical trials and research programs. I am then able to use their blood and tissue samples in my laboratory to better understand how liver cancer develops and to try to improve methods for the diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer. It's a very meaningful circle for me.

Do you work internationally?

I return to Ghana once a year to conduct CME (continuing medical education) conferences with colleagues from Mayo Clinic and other U.S. and Canadian medical centers.

In 2007, a team of about 30 people traveled from Rochester, and we worked at the medical teaching hospital in Kumasi where I grew up. Two hundred medical professionals from across West Africa gathered for the event. We were able to teach a number of different courses, including workshops on resuscitation of newborns. The workshops help to meet the need for technical knowledge in West Africa. In a country where 115 out of 1,000 children don't live to the age of 5, with many of them dying around the time of birth, a class on resuscitation of newborns can make a significant difference.

Many of the workshops we offer are developed in response to requests by local health personnel. For example, during our last conference in 2007, we received a request to help improve the colonoscopy skills of local physicians. We are therefore planning a special weeklong workshop focused on colonoscopy this year. It's very rewarding to work on this project each year.

Do you work with minority research students in your lab?

There are several that work in my laboratory — one undergraduate student, one postbaccalaureate student and two postdoctoral researchers. It's a particular interest of mine to increase the diversity of Mayo's pool of researchers because of the added perspectives that come to the field of medical research and also the added value these perspectives bring to our patients.

One of the postdoctoral fellows in my lab is interested in the connection between hepatitis B and liver cancer. He is originally from Somalia where hepatitis B infection is quite prevalent. Because there is a large population of Somalian immigrants in Rochester, Minn., we have an opportunity to make a significant difference for a community of minorities in Minnesota.

We are currently looking at ways to develop a screening program for hepatitis B that would help to identify people who are the highest risk of developing liver cancer.

Nov. 11, 2010