Dr. Ajay V. Maker M.D. is a surgical oncologist and chief of the UCSF Division of Surgical Oncology. He is an expert in surgically treating complex gastrointestinal and hepatopancreatobiliary diseases (those affecting the liver, pancreas, gallbladder and bile ducts), as well as melanomas and sarcomas.
Maker's research aims to improve early detection of pancreas cancer and to develop new therapies for treating metastases (cancers that have spread from a primary site in the body). Under grants awarded by the Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health (NIH), he works on designing novel immunotherapies (treatments that harness the immune system to fight tumors), particularly for liver metastases from colon cancer. He is one of only a few surgeons to receive the NIH MERIT award and U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity Cancer Impact Award.
Maker earned his medical degree at Yale School of Medicine. He completed a residency in general surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. He trained in surgical oncology at the NIH and completed postdoctoral studies in tumor immunology at the National Cancer Institute; this research included working in trials that led to the Food and Drug Administration approval of Ipilimumab as a new treatment for metastatic melanoma. He later completed a fellowship in surgical oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and then gained experience in minimally invasive surgical techniques at the University of Paris. He came to UCSF from his hometown of Chicago, where he was a tenured professor of surgery and of microbiology and immunology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In 2015, Maker was the European Society of Surgical Oncology's international traveling fellow and was later honored with the Society of Surgical Oncology's Clinical Investigator Award. He has published more than 170 manuscripts, abstracts and book chapters, and he lectures all over the world. He serves on the editorial boards of many surgical and scientific journals; serves on NIH study sections, which evaluate the merit of proposed research; and has held leadership positions in numerous academic and scientific societies, including program chair of the Americas Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association and chair of the Society of Surgical Oncology's gastrointestinal working group. He is also active in various medical societies, including the Surgical Biology Club , Western Surgical Association, American Society of Clinical Oncology and Pancreas Club. He has been named numerous times to Castle Connolly's Top Doctors and Top Doctors for Cancer lists. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and Society of Surgical Oncology.
Research Interests and Funding:
Dr. Maker graduated from Brown University with honors in fine arts and biology, completing his honors thesis in the NASA-funded lab of Dr. Herman Vandenberg in tissue engineering. Thereafter, he enrolled in the Yale School of Medicine and was selected to enter the Basic Science Research Training Fellowship where he was awarded the ADA Medical Scholars Award and the AAS/Novartis Research Award for his work in the R01-funded lab of surgeon Dana Andersen on elucidating mechanisms of pancreatogenic diabetes. He completed his general surgery residency at Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital and a tumor immunology post-doctorate fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Steven Rosenberg in the Surgery Branch of the NIH/NCI, during which time he was first author on many of the initial phase I/II trials utilizing anti-CTLA4 antibodies. This work was later honored with the "most cited article" award by the Society of Surgical Oncology.
Dr. Maker went on to complete surgical oncology fellowships at the NCI and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he continued translational bench research in the Ludwig Cancer Institute, funded, in part, by an ASCO Merit Award and an NCI EDRU U01. He has focused the efforts of his research career on expanding the role of immunotherapy for gastrointestinal tumors and has aligned his clinical practice to coincide with his research interests. His NCI/NIH and DoD-funded research program has identified an immunostimulatory cytokine capable of activating and supporting the proliferation of antigen-specific T-cells to incite an anti-tumor immune response in colorectal liver metastases. This strategy is currently being investigated in combination with oncolytic viruses and immune checkpoint blockade to elicit complete tumor responses. This work has been funded over time as PI by internal funding, the Warren and Clara Cole Foundation of the ACS, the NIH through both K08 and UL1 mechanisms, the DoD (Cancer Impact Award), R37 MERIT from the NCI, and the Society of Surgical Oncology (Investigator of the Year Award).
Dr. Maker's lab also investigates novel drug combinations that stimulate immunogenic cell death and that generate anti-tumor immune responses to treat GI tumor liver metastases. As part of these studies, Dr. Maker has developed multiple unique orthotopic animal models in which to study solid organ metastases that have led to multiple federally funded collaborations, including work on the novel Oncopig porcine large animal cancer model for liver and pancreatic cancer.
Furthermore, Dr. Maker has been a leader in the international IPMN biomarkers research group, and has developed a gene signature to predict malignancy in IPMN from pancreatic cyst fluid. He houses the international IPMN cyst fluid repository, one of the largest biobanks of its kind, for which he serves as the international PI. With this collaborative, he is currently validating a single-platform
biosignature to accurately predict the malignant potential of pancreatic cysts.
Finally, as a clinical surgeon with a passion for developing new laparoscopic and robotic techniques in complex surgical oncology, he has also maintained a robust clinical database from which multiple techniques papers and outcomes studies have been generated along with his residents.