Research Summary


Dr. Ajay V. Maker M.D. is a surgical oncologist and chief of the UCSF Division of Surgical Oncology. He is an expert in surgically treating complex gastrointestinal and hepatopancreatobiliary diseases (those affecting the liver, pancreas, gallbladder and bile ducts), as well as melanomas and sarcomas.

Maker's research aims to improve early detection of pancreas cancer and to develop new therapies for treating metastases (cancers that have spread from a primary site in the body). Under grants awarded by the Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health (NIH), he works on designing novel immunotherapies (treatments that harness the immune system to fight tumors), particularly for liver metastases from colon cancer. He is one of only a few surgeons to receive the NIH MERIT award and U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity Cancer Impact Award.

Maker earned his medical degree at Yale School of Medicine. He completed a residency in general surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. He trained in surgical oncology at the NIH and completed postdoctoral studies in tumor immunology at the National Cancer Institute; this research included working in trials that led to the Food and Drug Administration approval of Ipilimumab as a new treatment for metastatic melanoma. He later completed a fellowship in surgical oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and then gained experience in minimally invasive surgical techniques at the University of Paris. He came to UCSF from his hometown of Chicago, where he was a tenured professor of surgery and of microbiology and immunology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In 2015, Maker was the European Society of Surgical Oncology's international traveling fellow and was later honored with the Society of Surgical Oncology's Clinical Investigator Award. He has published more than 170 manuscripts, abstracts and book chapters, and he lectures all over the world. He serves on the editorial boards of many surgical and scientific journals; serves on NIH study sections, which evaluate the merit of proposed research; and has held leadership positions in numerous academic and scientific societies, including program chair of the Americas Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association and chair of the Society of Surgical Oncology's gastrointestinal working group. He is also active in various medical societies, including the Surgical Biology Club , Western Surgical Association, American Society of Clinical Oncology and Pancreas Club. He has been named numerous times to Castle Connolly's Top Doctors and Top Doctors for Cancer lists. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and Society of Surgical Oncology.

Research Interests and Funding:

Dr. Maker graduated from Brown University with honors in fine arts and biology, completing his honors thesis in the NASA-funded lab of Dr. Herman Vandenberg in tissue engineering. Thereafter, he enrolled in the Yale School of Medicine and was selected to enter the Basic Science Research Training Fellowship where he was awarded the ADA Medical Scholars Award and the AAS/Novartis Research Award for his work in the R01-funded lab of surgeon Dana Andersen on elucidating mechanisms of pancreatogenic diabetes. He completed his general surgery residency at Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital and a tumor immunology post-doctorate fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Steven Rosenberg in the Surgery Branch of the NIH/NCI, during which time he was first author on many of the initial phase I/II trials utilizing anti-CTLA4 antibodies. This work was later honored with the "most cited article" award by the Society of Surgical Oncology.

Dr. Maker went on to complete surgical oncology fellowships at the NCI and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he continued translational bench research in the Ludwig Cancer Institute, funded, in part, by an ASCO Merit Award and an NCI EDRU U01. He has focused the efforts of his research career on expanding the role of immunotherapy for gastrointestinal tumors and has aligned his clinical practice to coincide with his research interests. His NCI/NIH and DoD-funded research program has identified an immunostimulatory cytokine capable of activating and supporting the proliferation of antigen-specific T-cells to incite an anti-tumor immune response in colorectal liver metastases. This strategy is currently being investigated in combination with oncolytic viruses and immune checkpoint blockade to elicit complete tumor responses. This work has been funded over time as PI by internal funding, the Warren and Clara Cole Foundation of the ACS, the NIH through both K08 and UL1 mechanisms, the DoD (Cancer Impact Award), R37 MERIT from the NCI, and the Society of Surgical Oncology (Investigator of the Year Award).

Dr. Maker's lab also investigates novel drug combinations that stimulate immunogenic cell death and that generate anti-tumor immune responses to treat GI tumor liver metastases. As part of these studies, Dr. Maker has developed multiple unique orthotopic animal models in which to study solid organ metastases that have led to multiple federally funded collaborations, including work on the novel Oncopig porcine large animal cancer model for liver and pancreatic cancer.

Furthermore, Dr. Maker has been a leader in the international IPMN biomarkers research group, and has developed a gene signature to predict malignancy in IPMN from pancreatic cyst fluid. He houses the international IPMN cyst fluid repository, one of the largest biobanks of its kind, for which he serves as the international PI. With this collaborative, he is currently validating a single-platform
biosignature to accurately predict the malignant potential of pancreatic cysts.

Finally, as a clinical surgeon with a passion for developing new laparoscopic and robotic techniques in complex surgical oncology, he has also maintained a robust clinical database from which multiple techniques papers and outcomes studies have been generated along with his residents.

Research Funding

  • January 22, 2020 - December 31, 2024 - Stimulating Lymphocyte Activation Combined with Inhibition of Immunosuppressive Signals in Colon Cancer Metastases, Principal Investigator. Sponsor: NIH, Sponsor Award ID: R37CA238435
  • September 17, 2014 - August 31, 2020 - Enhancing anti-tumor immune responses in colon cancer metastases, Principal Investigator. Sponsor: NIH, Sponsor Award ID: K08CA190855
  • January 22, 2020 - December 31, 2024 - Stimulating Lymphocyte Activation Combined with Inhibition of Immunosuppressive Signals in Colon Cancer Metastases, Principal Investigator. Sponsor: NIH, Sponsor Award ID: R37CA238435
  • September 17, 2014 - August 31, 2020 - Enhancing anti-tumor immune responses in colon cancer metastases, Principal Investigator. Sponsor: NIH, Sponsor Award ID: K08CA190855


  • Brown University, AB (honors), 1997, Biology
  • Yale University School of Medicine, MD (honors), 2001, Medicine
  • Harvard Medical School, The Brigham and Women's Hospital, Resident, 2003, Junior General Surgery Residency
  • National Institutes of Health/NCI, Fellow, 2005, Surgical Oncology
  • National Institutes of Health/NCI, Post-doctorate, 2008, Sr. General Surgery Residency and Chief Residency
  • Harvard Medical School, The Brigham and Women's Hospital, Resident, 2008, Sr. General Surgery Residency and Chief Residency
  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Fellow, 2010, Surgical Oncology

Honors & Awards

  • 2012,17,19
    Lloyd Nyhus Award for Academic Excellence, UIC-MGH Residency Program in Surgery
  • 2013
    Golden Scalpel Teaching Award Nomination, University of Illinois School of Medicine
  • 2015
    "Rising Star", University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine
  • 2015
    European Society of Surgical Oncology Traveling Fellow, ESSO/SSO
  • 2015
    Jerry and Thelma Stergios Award for Excellence in Basic Research, University of Illinois
  • 2017
    Taiwanese Surgical Association Professorship, Association for Academic Surgery
  • 2018, 19, 20
    Castle Connolly Top Doctor
  • 2019, 20
    Top Cancer Doctor, Chicago Magazine
  • 2019
    Investigator of the Year, Society of Surgical Oncology
  • 2020
    NCI MERIT Award

Selected Publications

  1. Vitiello GA, Hani L, Wang A, Porembka MR, Alterio R, Ju M, Turgeon MK, Lee RM, Russell MC, Kronenfeld J, Goel N, Datta J, Maker AV, Fernandez M, Richter H, Correa-Gallego C, Berman RS, Lee AY. Clinical Presentation Patterns and Survival Outcomes of Hispanic Patients with Gastric Cancer. J Surg Res. 2021 Aug 29; 268:606-615.  View on PubMed
  2. Kronenfeld JP, Collier AL, Turgeon MK, Ju M, Alterio R, Wang A, Fernandez M, Porembka MR, Richter H, Lee AY, Russell MC, Merchant NB, Maker AV, Datta J. Attrition during neoadjuvant chemotherapy for gastric adenocarcinoma is associated with decreased survival: A United States Safety-Net Collaborative analysis. J Surg Oncol. 2021 Aug 11.  View on PubMed
  3. Khan M, Maker AV, Jain S. The Evolution of Cancer Immunotherapy. Vaccines (Basel). 2021 Jun 08; 9(6).  View on PubMed
  4. Turgeon MK, Lee RM, Keilson JM, Ju MR, Porembka MR, Alterio RE, Kronenfeld J, Datta J, Goel N, Wang A, Lee AY, Fernandez M, Richter H, Maker AV, Maithel SK, Russell MC. Is there a difference in utilization of a perioperative treatment approach for gastric cancer between safety net hospitals and tertiary referral centers? J Surg Oncol. 2021 Sep; 124(4):551-559.  View on PubMed
  5. Carnahan LR, Jones L, Brewer KC, Watts EA, Peterson CE, Ferrans CE, Cipriano-Steffens T, Polite B, Maker AV, Chowdhery R, Molina Y, Rauscher GH. Race and Gender Differences in Awareness of Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests and Guidelines Among Recently Diagnosed Colon Cancer Patients in an Urban Setting. J Cancer Educ. 2021 Jun; 36(3):567-575.  View on PubMed
  6. Maker AV, Al Rameni D, Prabhakar N. Combining On-Table Embolization with Immediate Resection to Safely Excise Giant Hepatic Hemangiomas. J Gastrointest Surg. 2021 06; 25(6):1651-1653.  View on PubMed
  7. Fernandez MF, Qiao G, Tulla K, Prabhakar BS, Maker AV. Combination Immunotherapy With LIGHT and Interleukin-2 Increases CD8 Central Memory T-Cells In Vivo. J Surg Res. 2021 Jul; 263:44-52.  View on PubMed
  8. Maker AV. ASO Author Reflections: How Can We Improve the Postoperative Experience for Our Pancreatic Cancer Patients? A Practical Technique to Optimize Pain Control After Major Abdominal Surgery. Ann Surg Oncol. 2021 Apr; 28(4):2296-2298.  View on PubMed
  9. Kone LB, Kunda NM, Tran TB, Maker AV. Surgeon-Placed Continuous Wound Infusion Pain Catheters Markedly Decrease Narcotic Use and Improve Outcomes After Pancreatic Tumor Resection. Ann Surg Oncol. 2021 Apr; 28(4):2287-2295.  View on PubMed
  10. Kone LB, Maker VK, Banulescu M, Maker AV. Epidural Analgesia Is Associated with Prolonged Length of Stay After Open HPB Surgery in Over 27,000 Patients. J Gastrointest Surg. 2021 07; 25(7):1716-1726.  View on PubMed
  11. Kone LB, Torres C, Banulescu M, Maker VK, Maker AV. Perioperative Broad-spectrum Antibiotics are Associated With Decreased Surgical Site Infections Compared to 1st-3rd Generation Cephalosporins After Open Pancreaticoduodenectomy in Patients With Jaundice or a Biliary Stent. Ann Surg. 2020 Jul 24.  View on PubMed
  12. Kone LB, Maker VK, Banulescu M, Maker AV. Should Drains Suck? A Propensity Score Analysis of Closed-Suction Versus Closed-Gravity Drainage After Pancreatectomy. J Gastrointest Surg. 2021 05; 25(5):1224-1232.  View on PubMed
  13. Dai S, Lv Y, Xu W, Yang Y, Liu C, Dong X, Zhang H, Prabhakar BS, Maker AV, Seth P, Wang H. Oncolytic adenovirus encoding LIGHT (TNFSF14) inhibits tumor growth via activating anti-tumor immune responses in 4T1 mouse mammary tumor model in immune competent syngeneic mice. Cancer Gene Ther. 2020 12; 27(12):923-933.  View on PubMed
  14. Bartlett DL, Howe JR, Chang G, Crago A, Hogg M, Karakousis G, Levine E, Maker A, Mamounas E, McGuire K, Merchant N, Shibata D, Sohn V, Solorzano C, Turaga K, White R, Yang A, Yoon S, Society of Surgical Oncology . Management of Cancer Surgery Cases During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Considerations. Ann Surg Oncol. 2020 Jun; 27(6):1717-1720.  View on PubMed
  15. Kone LB, Maker VK, Banulescu M, Maker AV. A propensity score analysis of over 12,000 pancreaticojejunal anastomoses after pancreaticoduodenectomy: does technique impact the clinically relevant fistula rate? HPB (Oxford). 2020 10; 22(10):1394-1401.  View on PubMed
  16. Saini S, Sripada L, Tulla K, Qiao G, Kunda N, Maker AV, Prabhakar BS. MADD silencing enhances anti-tumor activity of TRAIL in anaplastic thyroid cancer. Endocr Relat Cancer. 2019 06 01; 26(6):551-563.  View on PubMed
  17. Maker AV, Hu V, Kadkol SS, Hong L, Brugge W, Winter J, Yeo CJ, Hackert T, Büchler M, Lawlor RT, Salvia R, Scarpa A, Bassi C, Green S. Cyst Fluid Biosignature to Predict Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasms of the Pancreas with High Malignant Potential. J Am Coll Surg. 2019 05; 228(5):721-729.  View on PubMed
  18. Saini S, Sripada L, Tulla K, Kumar P, Yue F, Kunda N, Maker AV, Prabhakar BS. Loss of MADD expression inhibits cellular growth and metastasis in anaplastic thyroid cancer. Cell Death Dis. 2019 02 13; 10(2):145.  View on PubMed
  19. Tran TB, Maker VK, Maker AV. Impact of Immunotherapy after Resection of Pancreatic Cancer. J Am Coll Surg. 2019 07; 229(1):19-27.e1.  View on PubMed
  20. Saini S, Maker AV, Burman KD, Prabhakar BS. Molecular aberrations and signaling cascades implicated in the pathogenesis of anaplastic thyroid cancer. Biochim Biophys Acta Rev Cancer. 2019 12; 1872(2):188262.  View on PubMed

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