Meet Adam Kibel, MD, Newly Appointed Chair of the Department of Urology

Growing up in an academic family in Newton, Adam Kibel, MD, the newly appointed chair of the new Department of Urology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Disease Center Leader, Urology at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center always knew he would pursue an advanced degree, it just wasn’t clear what path he would follow.

“While I was at Cornell, I had absolutely no intention of going to medical school, and didn’t really have any plans after college,” he recalls. “I ended up in a summer internship doing research at Boston Children’s Hospital, and something clicked and I realized I could combine research with medicine and help people. That’s when I decided to go to medical school.”

Falling in Love with Urology

Kibel enrolled at Cornell Medical School in New York City and initially thought he might go into surgery. “At the end of my third year, I decided I wanted a field that combined procedures with long term patient interactions,” he recalls. “When I rotated on urology, I knew I had found the right match.”

Kibel’s interest in spending more time with patients has remained important to him throughout his career. “In urology, you see patients with a problem that involves very personal aspects of their lives, something they often don’t talk about with other people. Then we fix the issue, through either medical, surgical or behavioral therapies. If one doesn’t work, you can offer another. You then follow the patient long term, basically over the rest of their lives. I find that very satisfying.”

After medical school, Kibel matched at the Brigham and spent six years working within the Urology Department. In his year of research, he worked in Dr. William Kaelin’s lab.

“I was studying the VHL gene, a tumor suppressor gene that is very important in kidney cancer. We figured out how VHL worked, and that it was very much tied to hypoxia. That opened up a whole avenue of research beyond kidney cancer, looking at how the body regulates lack of oxygen. It was an incredibly rewarding experience.”  Bill Kaelin eventually won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2019 as he continued to expand this work.

A Career Shaped by Inspiring Mentors

Kibel credits his mentors with helping to shape and inspire his own career, which is now focused on minimally invasive treatments for urologic cancers. “I’ve been fortunate to have really great mentors,” he says. “During my 12 years at Washington University I worked with Ralph Clayman, who was the first person to do a laparoscopic removal of a solid organ. He inspired me to innovate surgically and not be satisfied with the status quo. And Jerry Ritchie, former Chief of Urology at the Brigham taught me to take on very difficult surgical cases, with the right amount of respect for the disease. I sometimes feel like the Forrest Gump of urology, just happening to be in the right place at the right time.”

In 2011, Kibel was recruited back to the Brigham as chief of the Division of Urology, replacing Dr. Ritchie in that role. Since that time, he has continued to build on the accomplishments of his former mentor. “We’ve built the group up over the past 12 years, and now it’s a department, which I’m very proud of.”

As Chair, Kibel believes one of his main roles is being a mentor for his staff and trainees. “As you get older, more and more of your role is to foster the careers of people who are junior to you, because they have the good ideas, and the energy. They are the ones who are going to continue to push things forward,” he says. “I feel tremendous pride in my faculty and residents.”

Finding Better Ways to Care for Patients

When asked about current research in his department, Kibel lights up. One research project is addressing the global shortage of Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG), an immunotherapy drug for bladder cancer, which currently leaves many patients with bladder cancer with few options. “Mark Preston is doing a lot of interesting research around repurposing old agents for treatment as well as looking into using new agents,” Kibel explains.

Their team is also doing work treating high-risk prostate cancer patients with systemic therapy, in addition to surgery or radiation. “The idea is that we use systemic therapy to treat the micrometastatic disease that may have spread to small lymph nodes or bones that we can’t see on imaging, and we treat the localized disease with surgery or radiation,” Kibel explains.

Another area of interest is leveraging large datasets through the Center for Surgery and Public Health to identify shortcomings in care. “We’re looking at these shortcomings within the larger population and also with a focus on underrepresented minorities,” Kibel says. “The leaders of our United Against Racism project are reaching out to the African American community engaging them, so we can improve our ability to screen and treat this at-risk population.”

Kibel’s own work is focused on the genetics of prostate cancer, working with an international consortium to identify ways of finding who’s at risk for developing prostate cancer over their lifetime. “We’re taking higher-risk patients and using MRIs to try to identify if they have prostate cancer,” he explains. “We’re also trying to figure out if we can prevent them from developing prostate cancer by advocating for a healthy lifestyle.”

Kibel is especially excited about what these newest innovations will mean for patients. “As our understanding of these diseases grows, we’re finding ways of delivering therapies we had previously only dreamed about to patients with diseases that were incurable or unmanageable when I trained,” he says.

“I tell people our mission at the Brigham is to deliver 2035 care in 2025,” he says. “We’re an institution where our job is not only to follow the standard of care, but to set the standard of care. We purposely, with thought and intention, find new and better ways of caring for patients. That’s our responsibility.”

A Love of Family and Ice Cream

Despite a busy career, Kibel has always made time for family. His wife, Laurel, whom he met in while growing up in Newton, founded the nonprofit ThreadED, which raises money to provide college scholarships for low-income students in the Boston area. The couple have raised three children, Jonathon, Ming and Grant. “They’re all grown up and out of the house now, and I’m very proud of all of them,” he says.

In his spare time Kibel loves skiing, enjoys golf and is an avid runner and reader. He also has a bit of a reputation as an ice cream enthusiast. “I have a hard time driving past an ice cream shop without getting a cone,” he says. “It’s a running joke between me and my entire family.”