Dr. Tempero: Patient advocate, fundraiser, and groundbreaking researcher in pancreatic cancer.
By the age of 26, Margaret Tempero, MD, was a “mom” many times over. “I was 26 by the time I went to medical school, and I had a 4-year-old son,” Dr. Tempero explained. “Although 26 is not all that old now for attending medical school, at that time I was one of the oldest in the class and the other students called me ‘Mom.’”
“Mom” Tempero went on to change the face of research in pancreatic cancer, via her personal research efforts and by highlighting the need for research funding for this aggressive cancer.
“What I think I‘ve done is to shine a light on the problem of pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Tempero, deputy director and director of clinical sciences at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
A former ASCO president, Dr. Tempero has also been involved in patient advocacy organizations such as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. She also was a leader for the first think tank meeting for pancreatic investigators in 1999, and then went on to help the NCI develop a strategic plan for its research agenda on pancreatic cancer.
Over the past decade, she has seen NCI funding for research into this cancer quadruple. As deputy director, she has helped to steer the UCSF cancer center to its current position as one of the top 10 centers in the United States.
Dr. Tempero invited Oncology News International to her office on the UCSF campus to discuss her life in medicine and her driving ambition to raise pancreatic cancer research to a more prominent place on the nation’s research agenda.
A passion for working with patients
Dr. Tempero grew up in Los Angeles and came to San Francisco to attend the University of San Francisco, where she met her husband Richard. The couple subsequently relocated to Omaha so that her husband could attend dental and medical school at the University of Nebraska. Dr. Tempero spent her time in Omaha working as a medical technologist, but she set her sights on becoming a physician.
She went on to earn her medical degree from the university and stayed for the next 17 years. In 1995, Dr. Tempero became deputy director of the University of Nebraska Eppley Cancer Center. Dr. Tempero was drawn to cancer care and research when, as an intern, she met her first cancer patient. “I was fascinated by cancer patients and their problems, and so impressed at how people handled a grave illness like cancer,” she said.
In fact, some of the most pivotal moments in Dr. Tempero’s career have been those that involved caring for patients, she said. She recalled becoming friends with a 35-year-old patient who, she said, made her a better doctor.
Then there was the pancreatic cancer patient at UCSF who did well in one of Dr. Tempero’s clinical trials. The patient became a phone-based counselor for other pancreatic cancer patients. Eventually, the patient funded a professorship for young investigators and provided a research gift that allowed Dr. Tempero to hire nurses who continue to counsel pancreatic cancer patients worldwide.
An underserved field
Dr. Tempero chose to specialize in gastrointestinal cancer because “it was an area where there was an unmet need, and where I felt I could make a mark in my academic career.”
Her contributions to pancreatic cancer treatment are manifold. It was her pioneering work that led to a fixed-dose infusion of gemcitabine(Drug information on gemcitabine) (Gemzar) becoming a common practice. She also spearheaded the application of radioactive-tagged antibodies for cancer therapy.
As a leader in patient care and translational research, Dr. Tempero was an inaugural board member for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the Lustgarten Foundation. While the Lustgarten Foundation funds research and spearheads professional education, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network concentrates on patient education and support for young investigators.
“So they have different, but somewhat overlapping missions, and I think that’s been very good for the research community,” she said.
Dr. Tempero relocated to UCSF in 2000 and was appointed to the Doris and Donald Fisher Distinguished Professorship, becoming chief of medical oncology and deputy director of the cancer center.
“Being deputy director here gave me the chance to really build the cancer center and the division of medical oncology because it was a rather young division when I arrived,” she said. In the span of eight years, she recruited 15 faculty members, and also brought innovation to the methods UCSF uses to share clinical revenues across departments.