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Meet Our Physicians and Scientists

Doctors and scientists at the University of Colorado Cancer Center are trying to make a difference in the fight against cancer in their laboratories, clinics, hospitals and every day lives. These individuals care deeply and personally about finding treatments and have devoted their careers to discovering cures for cancer. Read our doctor and researcher stories and be inspired by their dedication.

Theresa Pacheco 

Elaine Lam, MD

University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator Elaine Lam, MD, is on a mission to make personalized medicine a reality. Though Lam realizes there are still many advances to be made, she works toward finding the mechanisms that drive cancer and matching them to targeted drugs.

Meet Dr. Lam

Tim Garrington 

Rajeev Vibhakar, MD, PhD, MPH

Research wasn’t part of the plan. Rajeev Vibhakar, MD, PhD, MPH, director of the neuro-oncology program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, left his native Tanzania for Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota with the intention of becoming a small-town pediatrician. He finished his undergraduate work, moved on to medical school at New York Medical College… and something changed.

Meet Dr. Vibhakar

Ana Oton 

Neil Box, PhD

Neil Box grew up in Queensland, Australia where he saw the effects of sun exposure firsthand. Now, in addition to teaching and his research into the biology of how skin reacts with UV radiation, Dr. Box is helping to raise awareness in Colorado about sun protection and sun-safe behaviors. We caught up with Dr. Box between important grant submissions to talk about his work. 

Meet Dr. Box

Rajesh Agarwal 

The goal of personalized medicine is to match the genetics of an individual’s cancer with genetically-targeted treatments. In this model, between a tumor and its treatment is a test. CU’s Marileila Garcia designs the tests that show a tumor’s genetic problems, and for two decades has been leading the field of cancer care into this new era of personalized medicine. Here we talk with Dr. Garcia about what is sometimes the overlooked middle child of personalized medicine: the tests that match disease with treatment.

Meet Dr. Garcia

Tom Purcell, MD 

Barish Edil, MD

For a distilled description of Tom Purcell’s career path, just reverse the order of his titles. Officially, the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s new executive medical director and associate director for clinical services goes by W. Thomas Purcell, MD, MBA. Historically, however, Purcell’s path was first business, then medicine.

Meet Dr. Edil


Daniel Bowles, MD

"In 2009 when the rules regarding the establishment of dispensaries changed, all of a sudden they showed up on my way to work and in my neighborhood. I wanted to know what it was all about,” says Daniel Bowles, MD. Here we talk with Dr. Bowles about his involvement with medical marijuana practice and policy, as well as the current knowledge of risks and benefits associated with the drug as they relate to cancer.

Meet Dr. Bowles

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

Jonathan Gutman, MD

On the morning of Aug. 19, 2011, young researcher Jonathan Gutman, MD, and the stem cell transplant team infused a patient at the University of Colorado Cancer Center with stem cells grown from donated umbilical cord blood. In this phase I clinical trial, the recently pregnant patient was fighting for her life, having delayed treatment for leukemia so that her child could develop long enough to live. Here we talk to Dr. Gutman about his work and about this fascinating new treatment. 

Meet Dr. Gutman

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

A conversation with Tim Garrington, MD

When I first started as a pediatric oncologist, I’d be shaking going into the room if I knew I had to deliver bad news to a family,” says Timothy P. Garrington, MD. Here we talk with Dr. Garrington about his process of learning to communicate difficult and sometimes devastating news to patients, and about his efforts to teach these skills to residents and fellows at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Meet Dr. Garrington

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

Work doesn't stop at the clinic door

Theresa Pacheco, MD, had a father in health care, an interest in science and a strong stomach when she was a kid in rural Colorado. Those things led her where she is today—part of a University of Colorado Cancer Center team that is working to develop a sunscreen that can sense DNA damage from sun exposure and even repair it.

Meet Dr. Pacheco

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

A conversation with Rajesh Agarwal, PhD

After earning a PhD in organic chemistry, a post-doc position in a cancer lab helped Rajesh Agarwal make the transition to cancer science. Now 30 years later, Agarwal is one of the most accomplished scientists looking to naturally occurring compounds for the prevention and control of cancer. Here we talk with Dr. Agarwal about his work.

Meet Dr. Agarwal

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

A conversation with Sonia Okuyama, MD

After medical school in Peru and an oncology fellowship at CU Denver, Sonia Okuyama, MD, took a turn from the study of drugs and devices to the study of cures for the mind as well as the body. As the new director of the Cancer Center’s Cancer Information and Counseling Line (CICL), Dr. Okuyama develops and implements interventions that help patients cope with the many challenges of cancer outside the traditional conception of physical health. Here we talk with Dr. Okuyama about her work.

Meet Dr. Okuyama

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

Lured by great science, collaboration

Prior to coming to CU Cancer Center in July 2012, Smith spent years fostering a longdistance collaboration with a member of University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences faculty—Vasilis Vasiliou, PhD. For 25 years, Vasiliou’s laboratory has studied aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs) focusing on their role in metabolism, cellular responses to stress, metabolic diseases, cancer and cancer stem cells. Smith and Vasiliou research the role of ALDHs in controlling the growth of normal stem cells and leukemia stem cells.

Meet Dr. Smith

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

The last ditch doctor, Lia Gore, MD

Gore, a CU Cancer Center investigator, knew at the age of 12 that she wanted to take care of kids with cancer, and she pursued the dream, landing at Children’s and the University of Colorado School of Medicine for her pediatric residency in 1996 and stayed for her pediatric oncology training. In 2001 her post-doctoral research training was over, and she didn’t know what to do next.

Meet Dr. Gore

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

Reaching rural areas with the best cancer care

Twice a month for almost three years, Madeleine Kane, MD, has been catching a 6:30 a.m. flight from Centennial Airport near Denver to care for cancer patients at the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center in Alamosa, about 220 miles southwest of the state capital. There she sees 15 to 20 patients, then dictates progress notes and writes chemotherapy orders before flying back to Denver almost ten hours later.

Meet Dr. Kane

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

Dr. Natalie Serkova, animal imaging scientist

Natalie Serkova, PhD, is associate professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology,Pharmacology and Radiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the director of CU Cancer Center’s Core Facility for animal imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance. The lab provides services on all aspects of animal imaging for theUniversity of Colorado, Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines.

Meet Dr. Serkova

Sonia Okuyama, MD 

Dr. Al Barqawi, Urologist

By his own account, Dr. Al Barqawi is “a simple man.” But simple or not, he’s a man on the cutting edge of treating prostate cancer—without actually cutting anything. In 2009, Barqawi adopted a technique he observed during treatment of a deep-brain tumor. If his colleague at the University of Colorado Hospital could “zap” the brain tumor without damaging nerves around the eye, he wondered why couldn’t the technique be applied as successfully to treat cancer of the prostate?

Meet Dr. Barqawi