UMMC's newest division leader seeks to launch liver, pediatric abdominal programs
By Patrice Guilfoyle
Dr. Chris Anderson, who specializes in adult and pediatric liver and kidney transplants, joined the University of Mississippi Medical Center Aug. 1 with clear plans to offer Mississippians liver transplants within a year.
He has spoken with faculty and staff about his clinical and research interests, but those who haven't met Anderson can identify him by his footwear - brown, leather cowboy boots. Anderson, who previously worked at Washington University in St. Louis, said the boots are as much a part of him as his Mississippi roots. The Lucedale native wears them regularly, even in the operating room.
The boots are so synonymous with Anderson that surgical residents at Washington University gave him a group photo of them wearing cowboy boots as a way of honoring Anderson's work as director of resident research and associate residency program director.
"I wear them because they're comfortable, but I cannot tell you the number of times I've had patients comment on them," Anderson said. "In Missouri, with so many rural areas, you may have someone travel hours to come to St. Louis to see a doctor, and they're nervous. I had one patient tell me that when he saw my boots, he felt better."
Boots are a fitting symbol for Anderson, who will tread new medical ground in Mississippi. He returned to the state to lead the transplant division and to start a liver transplant program. Additionally, Anderson wants to launch Mississippi's pediatric abdominal transplant program by offering children with kidney disease transplant surgery.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I'm excited about it. I like a good challenge," he said.
A summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Anderson earned the M.D. at Emory University in Atlanta. He completed residency training in general surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he also completed a fellowship in hepatobiliary surgical research.
Anderson was a fellow in abdominal transplant surgery from 2006-08 at Washington University. He served as a staff surgeon in Missouri at Barnes Jewish Hospital, Barnes Jewish West County Hospital and Saint Louis Children's Hospital.
Anderson said it will likely take six months to a year for the liver program to begin because key staff members need to be recruited to the team. Anderson has no doubt that the program will succeed.
"I didn't come here just to come home. The institution is committed to this growth from top to bottom. There's support here to make this happen. Our goal is that no one should leave the state to get excellent transplant care," he said.
Dr. Marc Mitchell, chair and professor of surgery, said as many as 70 Mississippians travel out of state annually for liver transplants. With the addition of Anderson, these patients will be able to remain in Mississippi for their surgery and care.
"He's going to provide a service we haven't been able to provide for our citizens," he said.
Anderson's immediate goal is to improve the kidney transplant program by promoting laparoscopic kidney surgery for living donor transplants.
"My personal goal is that, if a physician in the state of Mississippi has a patient who needs a liver or kidney transplant or has a liver tumor or bile duct problem, that they will know me and our program," he said.
"It is our mission and our responsibility to provide comprehensive transplant care to patients who need it."
Anderson's research interest is in fatty liver disease and how it impacts transplantation in donors and recipients. His research focus is driven, in part, by an increase in obesity and metabolic diseases nationally. Obesity-related illnesses may lead to liver diseases.
"It will likely become a leading indication for liver transplant," Anderson said. He looks forward to working with researchers in the UMMC Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Center.
Dr. John Hall, associate vice chancellor for research, said Anderson is an outstanding clinician-scientist whose research closely complements his clinical work as a transplant surgeon and will be a great addition to the obesity center's research efforts.
"Dr. Anderson's research focuses on understanding the mechanisms by which steatotic (fatty) livers are more susceptible to injury, compared to non-fatty livers, when they are transplanted," Hall said. "The findings from his studies may suggest strategies to protect fatty livers from injury and permit use of them for human liver transplantation."
Interacting with medical students and residents is important to Anderson, and he said he would like to increase learners' exposure to transplants.
"I think a lot of what we do in transplantation can be utilized in other areas of medicine. These patients have complex physiology from which students can learn about end-stage diseases and medication interaction," he said.
Anderson's plans may be challenging, but returning to his Southern roots has been easy for him and his wife Theresa, a native of Slidell, La.
"It feels good to be here," Anderson said.