Dr Prasanna Sooriakumaran – Alumni Achievement Award 2018
Prasanna graduated from Surrey with a PhD in Prostate Cancer in 2006. He is a leader in prostate cancer surgery at University College London Hospital, the largest centre for robotic prostate surgery in the UK. He is among a handful of UK surgeons performing the novel robotic prostate cancer operation that has revolutionised care for thousands of men globally, himself performing more than 150 robotic prostatectomies a year.
He is the only UK urologist to win a Young Investigator Award from the American Prostate Cancer Foundation for his research, and is the current recipient of the Research Scholar Medal from The Urology Foundation for his ground-breaking research into early, lethal prostate cancer.
He is the winner of the Vice-Chancellor’s Alumni Achievement Award for 2018 for the significant impact of his research in prostate cancer and his achievements as a surgeon and academic.
What attracted you to choose the University of Surrey and to study your PhD here?
At the time the Postgraduate Medical School was just opening so there was no track record but it had two academics who I was keen to work with – Professors Hardev Pandha and Stephen Langley, who were pioneering new ways to detect and treat prostate cancer.
I always wanted to study medicine – it runs in the family as my father, sister and many uncles are all doctors, but I also knew I wanted to be a surgeon.
What were the best things about your PhD?
It was the first research I carried out and it cemented my decision to work in the prostate cancer field. A lot of surgeons end up working in an academic area not connected to their PhD study but I developed my passion for prostate cancer at Surrey and have since been fortunate to enjoy a great career.
I was the first PhD student to graduate from the Postgraduate Medical School and so for a while I was the only one, and received a lot of time and attention and got to know all the staff there really well. It felt like the whole community had got the PhD when I graduated!
What do you enjoy about your role?
I enjoy the technical challenge of removing a cancer, a very complex procedure, and helping the patient. Robot-assisted surgery is quicker, safer and carries fewer side-effects. It is very precise and is able to work in a way our hands can’t – for example swivel 360 degrees!
I also enjoy the interaction with the patients, knowing you have saved their lives. It’s so rewarding to make them better or cure them with a one-off procedure.
What are your career highlights?
I am lucky that I have the research and clinical sides of my work. A highlight of the former is the TRoMbone trial that I am leading to investigate whether removing the prostate can slow or even stop the spread of cancer in the bones. This is a really important trial across the globe and has the potential to benefit a huge number. Currently, one in six men develops a significant cancer in their lifetime and it is the most common cancer in men in the UK.
On the clinical side, it is rewarding when a patient is doing well and you watch them walk out of hospital the day after major cancer surgery.
What are challenges?
It’s difficult to balance my work with a family and social life. There are also the knockbacks when a research grant is turned down or when patients don’t do so well and complications arise.
What are your aspirations?
I want to continue to always put the patient at the heart of what I do and develop my position as one of the world’s foremost authorities on prostate cancer.
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