Distinguished Scientist: Mark A. Carlson, M.D.

February 20, 2020

Image with caption: Mark A. Carlson, M.D.

Mark A. Carlson, M.D.

This profile is part of a series to highlight the researchers who will be honored at a ceremony for UNMC's 2019 Scientist Laureate, Research Leadership, Distinguished Scientist and New Investigator Award recipients.

  • Name: Mark A. Carlson, M.D.
  • Title: Professor, UNMC Department of Surgery, College of Medicine
  • Joined UNMC: 1999
  • Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

Research focus:

  • Large animal models

Distinguished Scientist

The Distinguished Scientist Award -- which is sponsored by the chancellor -- recognizes researchers who have been among the most productive scientists at UNMC during the past five years.

The goal of my research is: To utilize large animal models to help improve patient care

My research will make a difference because: We often cannot study a disease directly in patients, because we don't want to experiment on people. But if we want to improve how we treat a bad disease, then we need to experiment on that bad disease. By doing so, we can figure out how to better treat (or even cure) that disease.

For example, the vast majority of patients with pancreatic cancer die within five years. We really don't know how to treat pancreatic cancer very well, so we need to experiment on it. An alternative to experimenting directly on patients with pancreatic cancer is to experiment on mice with pancreatic cancer. The problem here is that mice are not always great models of human biology. Occasionally, researchers and treating physicians can get misled from experiments performed on mouse models.

Our solution is to use a different animal which is closer to humans from genetic, anatomic, and overall functional aspects -- the pig. One of our projects is the development of a pig model of pancreatic cancer -- that is, a pig that gets pancreatic cancer in the same way that humans do. While mouse models have had great value and have improved care tremendously in many areas of medicine, it is our hope that the use of pig models to study certain bad diseases (such as pancreatic cancer) will yield improvements in care that have not been possible with the mouse models.

The best advice I've ever been given is:

Keep an open mind.

Three things you may not know about me are:

  • As a younger man, I trained and competed in Tae Kwon Do (karate), and became a fifth-degree black belt.
  • I was raised in Eastern Ohio, and I love anything made with maple syrup.
  • My father was a carpenter, which explains all the power tools in my basement.


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Sarah Gloden Carlson
February 20, 2020 at 11:27 AM

Very proud of you!

Emily McElroy
February 20, 2020 at 10:55 AM

Well deserved!

Jen Bredehoft
February 20, 2020 at 8:42 AM

Congratulations, Dr. Carlson!! Thank you for going the extra mile. Your research will save lives!

Jingwei Xie
February 20, 2020 at 7:46 AM


Daniel Zhou
February 20, 2020 at 5:55 AM

Congratulations, Dr. Carlson! You’re a fantastic mentor and an inspiration.