16: Dr. Patrick Hwu - The Future of Cancer Treatments - MD Anderson Cancer Center


Dr. Patrick Hwu is one of the leading tumor immunologists in the world. His work focuses on the areas of vaccines, adoptive T-cell therapies, and immune resistance. He is the Division Head of Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He is also a good friend of ours, and he treated Tricia’s husband at MD Anderson. We are very happy to have him here as our guest today.

Dr. Hwu shares a little about his background and his love of medicine. He explains what immunotherapy is and his excitement about future cancer treatments is contagious. He gives us a look into his daily routine and talks about how mindfulness has changed his life and made him calmer. We also talk about diet, leadership, why we should avoid sugar, and many more important topics.  

More From Dr. Patrick Hwu

Dr. Patrick Hwu MD Anderson Cancer Center



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Show Notes

  • [01:27] Dr. Hwu grew up in West Virginia. He studied in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Bethesda Maryland at the National Cancer Institute.

  • [01:48] He's always been interested in the body's immune response against cancer and that's what he's focused on for over 25 years now.

  • [01:58] This was before most people were talking about immunotherapy.

  • [02:14] Most people didn't believe that the immune response could fight cancer. It was a lonely time in science, but now it's very clear that the immune response can have a major effect on cancer.

  • [02:19] Immunotherapy is producing really wonderful response in some patients. It's not working for everyone, yet.

  • [02:32] Immunotherapy is utilizing the body's immune system to fight cancer. The main cell used is a T-cells. Everybody has T-cells in their bodies. These cells are usually used to fight viruses.

  • [02:56] When T-cells recognize cancer they release enzymes to poke holes in the membrane of the cancer cells. This causes apoptosis which means the cell explodes.

  • [03:15] T-cells can cause damage to a lot of cancer cells and cause very large tumors to shrink. We are trying to use the body's mechanism to fight viruses to fight cancer instead.

  • [03:43] The immune system can easily recognize some cancers like melanoma. Other cancers are much harder for the immune system to recognize as foreign.

  • [04:41] Any normal organ in our body can become a cancer cell.

  • [05:31] Depending on the situation, any combination of therapies can be used.

  • [06:24] Most of the time we don't know what causes cancer, but we do know what increases the risk.

  • [07:09] Don't smoke, don't get a sunburn, and try to avoid obesity.

  • [07:53] Patients always ask what should they eat. This is a hard question to answer, because we don't have definitive evidence about what they should eat.

  • [08:24] Cancer loves sugar. Everyone should cut down on sugar. Keep in mind, carbohydrates also turn into sugar.

  • [09:31] Sugar helps make protected molecules for cancer cells. It helps supply the bricks-and-mortar that cancer cells need to divide. Sugar does a lot of good for a cancer cell which is bad for the patient.

  • [09:57] Dr. Hwu is on a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet. One of the safest things to eat is fat.

  • [10:09] Heavy cream isn't bad for you if you're not eating very many carbohydrates.

  • [10:42] Practicing gratitude is a good thing. We are fortunate to have so many food choices. Dr. Hwu enjoys reading labels in the grocery store.

  • [11:37] Eat as many green vegetables and above the ground vegetables as you want.

  • [11:54] You can subtract the fiber from the carbohydrates and get net carbohydrates.

  • [13:01] Dr. Hwu wakes up too early and has a coffee with heavy cream. He also has zucchini almond butter muffins. He has a lot of meetings, but sees patients on Wednesday mornings. He gets home around 7:00 or 8:00.

  • [15:02] Moon Shots is focusing on one thing really well. At MD Anderson Cancer Center, they are focusing on pancreatic cancer.

  • [17:07] They are growing T-cells outside of the body and then plan to parachute them into the body through the vein.

  • [18:16] Dr. Hwu finds joy in his work through deep fulfilling relationships.

  • [19:55] One of Dr. Hwu's mentors is Steven Rosenberg an immunologist at in NIH.

  • [20:21] He has other mentors who have taught him what it's like to be a leader.

  • [20:41] A leadership quality that's important is to be a servant leader without recognition.

  • [22:49] Melanoma can now be treated by stimulating the body's immune system. Dr. Hwu hopes to take this treatment to all forms of cancer.

  • [25:16] Everybody's immune system is a little bit different. Depending on their immune system and the type of cancer they have, they may need to be stimulated with different things.

  • [28:31] Dr. Hwu is a mindfulness practitioner. He believes nourishing the mind is very important.

  • [30:38] When you don't spend your day worrying and stressing, you have a lot more time to be productive.

  • [31:48] Mindfulness has made Dr. Hwu much calmer and much happier.

  • [33:04] Everyone should read The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.

  • [33:30] The Lao Tzu quote brings Dr. Hwu strength and peace.

  • [33:46] Dr. Hwu would tell his 30-year old self to stop worrying about everything.

  • [34:35] His favorite meal is shirataki noodles.

  • [35:58] Dr. Hwu cherishes time and dinner with his wife and daughters.

Links and Resources:


Steven Rosenberg

Lao Tzu

The Firehouse Saloon

The Halo House

Wherever You Go, There You Are

7 Minute Workout App

The New Earth

“There was a time when people didn't believe that the immune response could fight cancer. It was a lonely time in science, but now it's very clear that the immune response can have a major effect on cancer.” -Dr. Patrick Hwu

“With immunotherapy, we are trying to use T-cells to fight cancer.” -Dr. Patrick Hwu

“T-cells can cause damage to a lot of cancer cells and cause very large tumors to shrink.” -Dr. Patrick Hwu