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Top specialists and new services address rising health concerns

Northwell Health is expanding services to address our communities’ increasing rates of liver and pancreatic diseases.

The metro New York region is experiencing a higher rate of liver diseases, like viral hepatitis and liver cancer, than the rest of the country, according to Tom McGinn, MD, Northwell's senior vice president and executive director of medicine.

"Most people with liver disease may not know their health is in danger," Dr. McGinn said, "and those who receive a diagnosis have few places where they can receive assessment, treatment and counsel. That's why we have established the Sandra Atlas Bass Center for Liver Diseases."

A free-standing building on the Manhasset campus of North Shore University Hospital (NSUH), the Sandra Atlas Bass Center for Liver Diseases opened in September.

"Concentrating care in this one place improves access, outcomes and patient satisfaction," Dr. McGinn said. "People with liver disease need specialized care in a comfortable, secure environment. This center serves as that destination for patients and their families."

Also on the rise are diseases of the pancreas, including diabetes and pancreatic cancer. Patients find multidisciplinary care at the Center of Diseases of the Pancreas at NSUH and Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center.

"Liver and pancreatic surgeries are the most complex abdominal operations, and our patients' need for them has increased dramatically," said Gene Coppa, MD, the health system's senior vice president and executive director of surgery. "Northwell surgeons perform more than 300 resections of the liver and pancreas each year, and our programs that manage care for these patients continue to grow."

Improvements in diagnostic and screening methods for cancer of the liver and pancreas have led to earlier interventions and better rates of survival for patients, Dr. Coppa added.

Patients find prominent authorities in liver and pancreas diseases at Northwell Health, including two doctors who recently joined:

  • Lewis Teperman, MD, joined the health system earlier this year as vice chair of liver transplant surgery. A pioneer in organ transplantation, he has an extensive background in living donor liver transplantation, immunosuppression and organ preservation. Dr. Teperman is developing the health system's Liver Transplant Program, which he will lead from the NSUH campus.
  • Horacio Rilo MD, director of the Center of Diseases of the Pancreas and head of Northwell's new Auto Islet Transplantation (AIT) Program. Few of these programs exist, but Dr. Rilo has built several of the world's most active and successful ones.

"The natural evolution of the management of patients with liver disease - and to a slightly lesser degree, patients with pancreatic disease - is to provide transplant services," said Dr. Coppa. "Adding national leaders in the field is a boon to patients. The need has never been greater."

"Building a Liver Transplant Program at the Center for Liver Diseases provides the complete spectrum of care to patients with liver failure," Dr. McGinn said, adding that it is the only such program in Nassau, Suffolk, Brooklyn and Queens.

Also a unique service in our region, AIT gives highly specialized treatment options to post-pancreatectomy patients who need an insulin pump or injections. To prepare for transplantation, Dr. Rilo and his team first use a special "clean room" at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research to isolate and purify specific insulin-producing beta cells. During the transplant procedure, Dr. Rilo infuses the islet cells into the patient's liver. The cells take root there, eventually form new blood vessels and begin to produce insulin on their own.

"Auto islet transplants bring hope to people who have suffered for years from the terrible pain of chronic pancreatitis," said Dr. Rilo.

With AIT, patients eventually regain control of their blood sugar with fewer injections - or without any entirely. Slowing or preventing the progression of diabetes-related heart disease, kidney disease and nerve or eye damage are among the benefits of this treatment.

"I want our team to develop immuno-therapies for pancreatic cancer and work on regenerative medicine," he said. "Because that's no longer the future - it's the present.

"Concentrating care in this one place improves access, outcomes and patient satisfaction."
— Thomas McGinn, MD