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Providence Research Profiles: Dr. Carl Brown

By Grace Jenkins

Dr. Carl Brown

Over the next few months, in an effort to shine a light on our many notable researchers, Providence Research will be profiling the careers of those who work within our inspiring research community. This month we are profiling Dr. Carl Brown, a leading colorectal surgeon at St. Paul’s Hospital and the recipient of the 2023 Research and Mission Award.

This award recognizes a scientist in our organization who demonstrates the mission and values of Providence Health Care while conducting outstanding research. Dr. Brown has conducted groundbreaking research into colorectal cancer treatment and has been integral to the development of multiple research groups at Providence Health Care. Beyond Vancouver, Dr. Brown has provided many surgeries to patients in Guatemala as part of the volunteer health care team Health for Humanity.

The Research and Mission Award winner was announced at an event on June 16th at the Sheraton Wall Centre. Previous recipients include Drs. Anita Palepu, James Hogg, Bruce McManus and Julio Montaner.

“These are luminaries of research and thought leaders in their respective fields, and Providence is an incubator for those types of thinkers. To be considered among that group of clinicians is an incredible honour,” says Dr. Brown. He emphasizes that, while this award recognizes his work as an individual, it is a reflection of the success of his team as a whole.  

Building the colorectal research team

When Dr. Brown began working at St. Paul’s Hospital in 2006, he was one of just two colorectal surgeons. Over time, he helped establish a team that prioritized clinical research, funded through partnerships with both grant-funded research projects and technology companies interested in advancing surgical care. He has grown the team, which now consists of five surgeons, in addition to research coordinators, graduate students, clinical fellows, and surgery trainees.

Much of the research done by Dr. Brown and his team involves the use of technology to improve outcomes for patients with colorectal cancer, with a large focus on minimally invasive surgery and surgical techniques that reduce incisions and pain while improving the ability to reconstruct the bowel. Dr. Brown is a global leader in minimally invasive procedures such as Transanal Endoscopic Microsurgery and Transanal Total Mesorectal Excision (TaTME).

Dr. Brown’s team has relationships with general surgeons across the province who send them patients to receive this care. This has allowed them to gain a high volume of experience with the novel techniques the team has developed.

“We’ve been able to offer [TaTME] to British Columbians, and that has really helped with their surgical recovery and their ability to have reconstruction after surgery,” says Dr. Brown.

He also introduced the Enhanced Recovery after Surgery program at St. Paul’s Hospital, an award-winning initiative that has improved the post-operative patient experience and reduced hospital stays.

Supporting the Providence Breast Centre research team

Dr. Brown also played an integral role in supporting the research team at the Providence Breast Centre at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital. Early on in Dr. Brown’s time at St. Paul’s Hospital, he met Dr. Elaine McKevitt, a breast and general surgeon also working at St. Paul’s at the time.

“She and I were likeminded when it came to trying to improve patient care,” says Dr. Brown. 

Dr. McKevitt later moved to Mount Saint Joseph Hospital and helped develop the Providence Breast Centre with Dr. Rebecca Warburton and her colleagues. Their team wanted to conduct research and had plenty of good ideas, but minimal funding – a similar situation to the colorectal research team. Dr. Brown was able to advise them on how to get their research up and running.

“Through that collaboration, they’ve really become a leading light in breast cancer research, nationally and internationally. They’re doing incredible work over there,” says Dr. Brown.

Representing the values of PHC

When Dr. Brown first came to St. Paul’s Hospital, he felt that there was a sense that general surgery was on life support. There were few surgeons, and it was difficult to recruit more. He is proud to have been a part of the team that has resuscitated that institution and has taken Providence Health Care to being a leader in many different fields of surgery.

“It’s been an exciting time to be at Providence throughout this experience,” says Dr. Brown.

Providence Health Care has a long history of caring for people with stigmatized conditions, such as mental illness, substance use, and HIV. There is a different, but very real, stigma surrounding colorectal cancer - people are often embarrassed and reluctant to talk about it.

“The work we do is to try to help people in some of their darkest days, with a cancer that they may not feel comfortable talking about with their friends and family,” says Dr. Brown. He believes that this perfectly represents the kind of work Providence Health Care exemplifies, and why he was selected this year’s recipient of the 2023 Research and Mission Award.