February 2010: Virginia R. Litle '81
by Erin Reid, Associate Director of Stewardship and Special Projects
Virginia R. “Ginny” Litle ’81 is an academic thoracic surgeon at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. Her clinical expertise and specific interests are in esophageal cancer and minimally invasive thoracic surgery of the esophagus and lung.
Litle was graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.S. in biology (Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in 1985 and from the Brown-Dartmouth Program in Medicine in 1990. She did her residency at the prestigious Department of Surgery, University of California, San Francisco (where she additionally focused on research at the University’s Division of Molecular Cytometry and Gastrointestinal Research Laboratory). She then completed surgical fellowships at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in surgical oncology and cardiothoracic surgery.
Well-respected for her research work in the areas of lung and esophageal cancer, Litle was the 1999 recipient of the Piedmont Society Award for Basic Science Research at the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons 100th Anniversary and Tripartite Meeting and was honored by an invitation to attend the American Society of Clinical Oncology/American Association for Cancer Research Workshop in Methods in Clinical Cancer Research in 2003. She has received funding from the National Cancer Institute to investigate microRNA expression in Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Following her cardiothoracic residency, Litle began her academic positions in 2004 when she was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where she built an active clinical practice. She also obtained federal grant funding and maintained an active laboratory. Litle concurrently served as an Assistant Attending, Cardiothoracic Surgery at North General Hospital in New York, NY, and Attending, Thoracic Surgery at Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, NY. She was then appointed to her current role as Associate Professor, Division of Thoracic/Foregut Surgery at the University of Rochester in 2008.
Litle’s board certifications include the National Board of Medical Examiners, American Board of Surgery, and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. She is licensed in New York. Her professional memberships include the Howard C. Naffziger Surgical Society, American College of Surgeons – Fellow (2007), The Society of Surgical Oncology, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Women in Thoracic Surgery (website editor), New York Society of Thoracic Surgeons, American Association of Cancer Research, American College of Chest Physicians – Fellow (2006), Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and the General Thoracic Surgery Club. She is the author of numerous articles and publications, including journals, chapters, and abstracts, and has been an invited lecturer and presenter at many educational seminars.
What attracts Litle to esophageal cancer research? She notes that esophageal cancer has the fastest rising incidence of all cancers in the U.S. (Melanoma is next fastest.) This increase is associated particularly with gastroesophageal reflux disease and obesity. Since outcome from this cancer is poor, studying the cancer genomics may help predict prognosis, improve current treatment strategies, and identify targeted therapies (antibodies and small molecules).
In reflection Litle says, “Hotchkiss taught me to be a lifelong student, with a list of daily and long-term goals. Although I was never a natural student of science, I chose a goal of being a physician (and later surgeon) for the humanistic aspects. Hotchkiss prepared me to pursue a discipline that did not come easily to me. Certainly my many years of Latin studies and the excellent English classes prepared me for medicine and for professional writing of papers and grants.”
Litle lives in Rochester, New York, with her three children, ages 5-10, and her husband, Tony Godfrey, who is a cancer geneticist.