January Physician of the Month: Dr. Lawrence “Drew” Shirley

Dr. Drew Shirley OSUCCC – James

Collaboration is the key for Lawrence “Drew” Shirley, MD.

And it’s one of the many reasons he’s January’s Physician of the Month at The Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

“There is no greater honor than being able to practice alongside some of the most renowned cancer experts in the world,” said Shirley, a surgical oncologist who focuses on endocrine cancers, specifically tumors of the thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands. “Once one of my patients has been diagnosed with cancer, I’m able to collaborate with my colleagues to make sure these patients have the most cutting-edge treatments.”

Shirley came to the OSUCCC – James in 2011 as a clinical fellow in surgical oncology with a specific goal in mind: “From early on, I wanted to be a surgeon who also did research.”

Consider that goal accomplished.

With the help of a Pelotonia Fellowship, Dr. Shirley was able to extend his clinical fellowship for an additional year and begin to delve deep into research in addition to seeing patients. He was appointed to the OSUCCC – James faculty in 2014, and has been awarded two National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants as well as a grant from the American Thyroid Association to further the research of his lab.

Shirley’s research focuses on integrin-linker kinase (ILK), a protein expressed at higher rates in patients with more aggressive thyroid cancers. Under the mentorship of Matthew Ringel, MD, a leading member of the OSUCCC – James thyroid cancer treatment team, Dr. Shirley and his team have improved understanding of the tumor microenvironment of thyroid cancer, or those “normal” cells that inadvertently assist in cancer growth. Shirley’s laboratory is using these initial discoveries to uncover markers that can guide patient care as well as novel therapeutic targets that may give new hope to patients who have run out of treatment options.

The goal is “that the discoveries we find in these cells in the lab will lead to an impact on patient care,” Shirley said.

He met his primary collaborator, his wife Kathryn Kelly Shirley, while they were in medical school at the University of Kentucky. Kathryn Shirley is a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the couple has two children: Audrey, 11, and Sam, 8.

Shirley credits the Pelotonia Fellowship he received for jump-starting his research. In return, he rides every year and helps to spread the word about the annual, fundraising bike ride that has raised $156 million in nine years for cancer research at the OSUCCC – James.

“It’s almost overwhelming emotionally to see so many people supporting a cause I’m so passionate about,” he said of Pelotonia. “And, when I’m having a bad day, when things aren’t going well, I think of the Pelotonia experience and it pushes me to keep moving forward.”