Research Studies

Research Studies on Colon and Rectal Conditions

Lab Overview

The Laparoscopy and Oncology Laboratory of St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital

Director, Richard L. Whelan, MD


The Laparoscopic Physiology and Oncology Laboratory was first opened in 1996 at Columbia University’s Health Science Campus in Washington Heights. In 2009 the lab was moved to St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, until Sept. 2019 where it was relocated to our current location at Lenox Hill Hospital. Dr. Richard L. Whelan heads the laboratory. The lab is staffed by 2 fulltime PhD’s (Dr. Shantha Kumara and Peter Yan) as well as 2 full time residents or medical students (doing 1 – 2 year long research rotations). There is also a full time research nurse and a clinical data manager/statistician round out the research staff. There are often 1 or 2 post baccalaureate students working with our group as well.

Early Years

The Laparoscopic Physiology and Oncology Laboratory of Dr. Richard Whelan (early years)


For the vast majority of our lives our bodies are able to defend us from the countless bacteria and viruses that we come in contact with on a daily basis. When we do get sick our immune systems are most always able to contain and limit the infection. In a similar way, we believe that our healthy bodies are able to detect and destroy individual cells and small groups of cells that are malignant or on the pathway to becoming cancers, thus preventing malignant tumors from forming. In short, when healthy, our bodies do a tremendous job in protecting us from external threats (bacteria and viruses) as well as internal dangers (mutated human cells).

Young Patient Colon Cancer

Patients Under 50 Years of Age Are at Risk for Colon Cancer and are More Likely to Have Advanced Disease When Diagnosed

Richard L. Whelan, MD, Chief, Colorectal surgery Northwell Health Cancer Institute

The research lab of Dr. Richard L. Whelan, has recently completed a retrospective review of patients under 50 years of age who underwent surgery for colon or rectal cancer during an 15 year period at either St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital or a second institution. This study’s results suggest that the chances of a younger patient developing colorectal cancer is increasing and that advanced disease is more likely to be found when compared to patients over 50 with CRC. Further, in some cases there was a delay in diagnosis that may have been due, in part, to a reluctance of primary care physicians to refer patients for colonoscopy or other diagnostic tests. 

Hybrid Procedure Results

Long Term Survival After Hybrid Laparoscopic / Open Resection Method for Rectal Cancer

Richard L. Whelan, MD, C.C.C.N.Y., Chief Colon and Rectal Surgery at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital

Although the use of minimally invasive surgical (MIS) methods for the resection of colon cancer has been well studied and accepted there is less data available regarding MIS rectal cancer resection methods. Rectal resections, the vast majority of which are done to remove a cancer, are more complex and demanding operations. Presently, several multicenter randomized trials comparing the traditional (large incision) and MIS methods are underway, however, the long term cancer survival and recurrence results are not yet available. Thus, it has not yet been proven that the long term outcome after MIS rectal resection is comparable to “open” (large incision) resection results. Critics worry that MIS rectal resections may be less thorough or radical than the “open” operation

Perioperative Cancer Treatment Results

Anti-cancer Drugs during the Month before and After Colorectal Cancer Resection

Currently, in the United States no anti-cancer treatment is given during the month leading up to surgery. Provided it was safe, it would make sense for patients to take a drug that would limit tumor growth while they were waiting for surgery. Similarly, during the first 4 to 6 weeks after surgery no anti-cancer therapy is currently given. If individual cancer cells or undetectable cancer deposits remain in the body after surgery the best time to attack them is early after the primary cancer has been removed because at that time the fewest number of cancer cells remains in the body. One of the basic principles of oncology is “The fewer the cancer cells the more likely an anti-cancer treatment will be successful”. Another reason to give anti-cancer drugs during the first postoperative month is that this is a particularly dangerous time for patients with residual cancer deposits.