Christopher Griffith Wood (1963-2021)

13 December 2021 By Prof. Axel Bex

On Wednesday, November 3rd 2021, Dr. Christopher Wood sadly and unexpectedly passed away. Dr. Wood was a professor of urology and genitourinary cancer surgeon at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre and a pioneer in advanced kidney cancer surgery. According to his own account, he was initially employed at the MD Anderson to focus on prostate cancer but switched interest to manage patients with kidney cancer early in his career.

Whoever met him could not but notice how passionate he was about developing and teaching advanced kidney cancer surgery and mentoring the next generation of urologic oncologists. At a time devoid of prognostic scores for patients facing advanced kidney cancer surgery he studied how to select patients for complex procedures to ensure the best outcome. The first time I heard him present was at a Kidney Cancer Association meeting in Chicago, more than 2 decades ago where he questioned a statement one of his teachers made, that ‘the only thing that cures cancer is stainless steel and a good template’.

Recognising the limits of surgery while pushing the boundaries, he was one of the first to study medical therapy prior to planned nephrectomy to select patients with metastatic kidney cancer likely to benefit from this approach. At that time, MD Anderson was the global leader in offering this concept to patients, and their publications laid the foundations for similar studies in Europe. Both the improved selection criteria for surgery and the concept of deferred cytoreductive nephrectomy answered to an unmet clinical need and inspired clinical kidney cancer research in Europe to test the sequence of medical therapy and cytoreductive nephrectomy in the randomised SURTIME trial. Dr. Wood and his team pioneered neoadjuvant treatment concepts for high-risk and locally advanced kidney cancer and he was the first to lead and report an international randomised controlled trial of adjuvant heat shock protein-peptide complex for use as a patient-specific vaccine.

Dr. Wood authored more than 400 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters. His work will leave a legacy behind reaching far beyond the confines of the MD Anderson and continues to motivate researchers around the globe as can be witnessed in the recent international trials on deferred cytoreductive nephrectomy after immune checkpoint inhibitor combination therapy.

Above all, Dr. Wood was driven to deliver the best care for his patients and he engaged very early on with the Kidney Cancer Association, a global community dedicated to serving and empowering patients and caregivers, and leading change through advocacy, research, and education. During his successful career he was a member of the KCA’s Medical Steering Committee and then as the Chair of the Kidney Cancer Association’s Board of Directors until his death. At the annual meetings of the KCA his rapid-fire educational case discussions were legendary and became known as ‘Woodfire’ sessions in which he challenged multidisciplinary panels of international kidney cancer experts. Dr. Wood leaves behind his wife Colleen, his daughter Sarah and his son Chris Jr. He will not only be greatly missed by his family and friends but by colleagues and the entire kidney cancer community.

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