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


  • 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. Ashraf Ganjouei A, Romero-Hernandez F, Wang JJ, Casey M, Frye W, Hoffman D, Hirose K, Nakakura E, Corvera C, Maker AV, Kirkwood KS, Alseidi A, Adam MA. ASO Visual Abstract: A Machine-Learning Approach to Predict Postoperative Pancreatic Fistula after Pancreaticoduodenectomy Using only Preoperatively Known Data. Ann Surg Oncol. 2023 Nov; 30(12):7776-7777.  View on PubMed
  2. Ashraf Ganjouei A, Romero-Hernandez F, Wang JJ, Casey M, Frye W, Hoffman D, Hirose K, Nakakura E, Corvera C, Maker AV, Kirkwood KS, Alseidi A, Adam MA. A Machine Learning Approach to Predict Postoperative Pancreatic Fistula After Pancreaticoduodenectomy Using Only Preoperatively Known Data. Ann Surg Oncol. 2023 Nov; 30(12):7738-7747.  View on PubMed
  3. Calthorpe L, Romero-Hernandez F, Casey M, Nunez M, Conroy PC, Hirose K, Kim A, Kirkwood K, Maker AV, Corvera C, Nakakura E, Alseidi A, Adam MA. ASO Visual Abstract: National Practice Patterns in Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma-Updates in Management and Survival. Ann Surg Oncol. 2023 Aug; 30(8):5131.  View on PubMed
  4. Wiley MB, Bauer J, Mehrotra K, Zessner-Spitzenberg J, Kolics Z, Cheng W, Castellanos K, Nash MG, Gui X, Kone L, Maker AV, Qiao G, Reddi D, Church DN, Kerr RS, Kerr DJ, Grippo PJ, Jung B. Non-Canonical Activin A Signaling Stimulates Context-Dependent and Cellular-Specific Outcomes in CRC to Promote Tumor Cell Migration and Immune Tolerance. Cancers (Basel). 2023 May 31; 15(11).  View on PubMed
  5. Calthorpe L, Romero-Hernandez F, Casey M, Nunez M, Conroy PC, Hirose K, Kim A, Kirkwood K, Maker AV, Corvera C, Nakakura E, Alseidi A, Adam MA. National Practice Patterns in Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma: Updates in Management and Survival. Ann Surg Oncol. 2023 Aug; 30(8):5119-5129.  View on PubMed
  6. Pollini T, Marchegiani G, Facciorusso A, Balduzzi A, Biancotto M, Bassi C, Maker AV, Salvia R. It is not necessary to resect all mucinous cystic neoplasms of the pancreas: current guidelines do not reflect the actual risk of malignancy. HPB (Oxford). 2023 Jul; 25(7):747-757.  View on PubMed
  7. Pollini T, Wong P, Kone LB, Khoury RE, Kabir C, Maker VK, Banulescu M, Maker AV. Drain Placement After Pancreatic Resection: Friend or Foe For Surgical Site Infections? J Gastrointest Surg. 2023 04; 27(4):724-729.  View on PubMed
  8. Lin JJ, Conroy PC, Romero-Hernandez F, Yilma M, Feng J, Hirose K, Nakakura E, Maker AV, Corvera C, Kirkwood K, Alseidi A, Adam MA. Hypertension Requiring Medication Use: a Silent Predictor of Poor Outcomes After Pancreaticoduodenectomy. J Gastrointest Surg. 2023 02; 27(2):328-336.  View on PubMed
  9. Pollini T, Wong P, Maker AV. The Landmark Series: Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasms of the Pancreas-From Prevalence to Early Cancer Detection. Ann Surg Oncol. 2023 Mar; 30(3):1453-1462.  View on PubMed
  10. Calthorpe L, Romero-Hernandez F, Miller P, Conroy PC, Hirose K, Kim A, Kirkwood K, Nakakura E, Corvera C, Maker AV, Alseidi A, Adam MA. Contemporary Trends in Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma: Incidence and Survival in the United States. Cancers (Basel). 2022 Dec 30; 15(1).  View on PubMed
  11. Miller PN, Romero-Hernandez F, Conroy P, Calthorpe L, Yilma M, Mohamedaly S, Kelly YM, Feng J, Hirose K, Kirkwood K, Maker AV, Corvera C, Nakakura E, Alseidi A, Adam MA. Hand-Assisted Versus Pure Minimally-Invasive Distal Pancreatectomy: Is There a Downside to Lending a Hand? World J Surg. 2023 03; 47(3):750-758.  View on PubMed
  12. Romero-Hernandez F, Mohamedaly S, Miller P, Rodriguez N, Calthorpe L, Conroy PC, Ganjouei AA, Hirose K, Maker AV, Nakakura E, Corvera C, Kirkwood KS, Alseidi A, Adam MA. Minimally Invasive Distal Pancreatectomy Techniques: A Contemporary Analysis Exploring Trends, Similarities, and Differences to Open Surgery. Cancers (Basel). 2022 Nov 16; 14(22).  View on PubMed
  13. Pollini T, Adsay V, Capurso G, Dal Molin M, Esposito I, Hruban R, Luchini C, Maggino L, Matthaei H, Marchegiani G, Scarpa A, Wood LD, Bassi C, Salvia R, Mino-Kenudson M, Maker AV. The tumour immune microenvironment and microbiome of pancreatic intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms. Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2022 12; 7(12):1141-1150.  View on PubMed
  14. Leder Macek AJ, Wang A, Turgeon MK, Lee RM, Russell MC, Porembka MR, Alterio R, Ju M, Kronenfeld J, Goel N, Datta J, Maker AV, Fernandez M, Richter H, Berman RS, Correa-Gallego C, Lee AY. Diagnostic laparoscopy is underutilized in the staging of gastric adenocarcinoma regardless of hospital type: An US safety net collaborative analysis. J Surg Oncol. 2022 Sep; 126(4):649-657.  View on PubMed
  15. Kone LB, Maker AV. Physical exam reveals etiology of liver and pancreatic tumors. Surgery. 2022 10; 172(4):e43-e44.  View on PubMed
  16. Baskin AS, Wang K, Maker AV. Langer's arch: An anatomic variant complicating axillary node dissection. Surgery. 2022 08; 172(2):e19-e20.  View on PubMed
  17. Kone LB, Bystrom PV, Maker AV. Robotic Surgery for Biliary Tract Cancer. Cancers (Basel). 2022 Feb 18; 14(4).  View on PubMed
  18. Qiao G, Kone LB, Phillips EH, Lee SS, Brown GE, Khetani SR, Thakur A, Lum LG, Prabhakar BS, Maker AV. LIGHT enhanced bispecific antibody armed T-cells to treat immunotherapy resistant colon cancer. Oncogene. 2022 04; 41(14):2054-2068.  View on PubMed
  19. 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 12; 268:606-615.  View on PubMed
  20. 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 Dec; 124(8):1317-1328.  View on PubMed

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