New chief of general surgery joins UF

The UF College of Medicine’s Department of Surgery has named Steven J. Hughes, M.D., the new chief of general surgery.

Hughes, who previously served as an associate professor of surgery in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine and as chief of gastrointestinal surgery at the institution’s medical center, began his new job at UF on Aug. 2.

Steven J. Hughes, M.D.

“I look forward to helping expand our repertoire of programs focusing on improving our patients’ experiences and outcomes,” said Hughes, an associate professor of surgery who focuses on pancreatic and liver disease.

Hughes said he also plans to continue his research analyzing tumors to predict their behavior and their response to treatments, in the quest to develop increasingly personalized plans for cancer patients’ care.

Kevin E. Behrns, M.D., chairman of the department, served as chief of general surgery for five years before bringing Hughes in to take the position.

Hughes earned his medical degree at Mayo Medical School and completed a surgical internship and general surgery residency at University of Michigan Hospitals. He finished a fellowship in surgical critical care and a National Institutes of Health surgical oncology research fellowship, both in the University of Michigan medical system. Hughes is a former chief of general surgery at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

His clinical interests include surgical treatment of cancers and other diseases of the liver, pancreas, gallbladder and bile ducts. Hughes specializes in minimally invasive surgical treatments for these conditions.

He will be the first at UF to perform a surgical procedure called the “laparoscopic Whipple.” This minimally invasive procedure is performed on patients with certain pancreatic and biliary tract conditions. It involves removing portions of the pancreas, bile duct and small intestine, as well as the entire gallbladder, then reconstructing the intestinal tract. The procedure is performed through six small incisions and uses a scope and other instruments.

Hughes said he also wants to expand the department’s list of protocols for treating patients with gastrointestinal cancers.

“I certainly will want to implement a research program here where we take patients with pancreatic cancer who are thought to be inoperable and give them experimental chemotherapy and radiation first,” he said, “and then re-investigate them for the possibility of an operation.”

This combined approach to cancer treatment is called neoadjuvant therapy. Hughes said this approach has yielded “exciting preliminary results.”

Hughes’ research interests center on improving the understanding of gastrointestinal tumor biology through genetic analysis and assessing the response of these historically stubborn tumors to a new class of medications called tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

His research efforts have been supported by numerous grants, including three National Institutes of Health research grants.

“We are enthusiastic about Dr. Hughes’ arrival at the University of Florida because he brings clinical expertise, leadership and innovation to a rapidly maturing group of general surgeons,” said Behrns.

Hughes has been married to his wife, Lynn Hughes, for 21 years. They have three children.

Hughes said visits to UF during his candidacy showed him an atmosphere full of potential for growth.

“The environment, mission and vision for the future were very exciting to me,” he said. “I think great things are going to happen at UF and at Shands, and I was enthusiastic about coming for that reason.”