The game-changer
Dr. Kazuhiro Yasufuku

​Dr. Kazu Yasufuku’s world-renowned innovations have altered endoscopy forever.

Dr. Kazu Yasufuku has changed the way doctors around the world view endoscopy

Dr. Kazuhiro Yasufuku likens joining the Sprott Department of Surgery in 2008 to the Japanese baseball players who joined Major League Baseball (MLB) in the 1990s. Back then, doctors didn’t travel nearly as much as they do now to work at other institutions, and only the top medical professionals were lucky enough to join a place like Toronto General Hospital.

“In the ’90s, so few professional Japanese players came to MLB,” says Dr. Yasufuku, better known as Kazu among his colleagues. “As proud as they were to join the major leagues, it was an honour for me to be part of Toronto General.”

It turns out, the honour belongs to the Sprott Department of Surgery, where Dr. Yasufuku quickly established himself as a medical superstar. When the mild-mannered doctor arrived in Toronto 14 years ago, he had only planned on staying for a year. A brilliant thoracic surgeon who had studied in Japan and the U.S., he joined University Health Network (UHN) as a fellow to train in lung transplant surgeries, with the intention of launching a lung transplant program in Chiba, Japan, where he’s from, once his fellowship was up.

But while in Canada, Dr. Yasufuku, who is the Deputy Head of the Division of Surgical Oncology in the Sprott Department of Surgery, the William Coco Chair in Surgical Innovation for Lung Cancer and Director of Endoscopy and the Interventional Thoracic Surgery Program at UHN, pioneered an innovative way of performing lung biopsies that profoundly transformed how lung cancer is diagnosed and treated. The procedure, the endobronchial ultrasound-guided transbronchial needle aspiration (EBUS-TBNA), was heralded around the world for its non-invasive approach and became the gold standard for sampling lymph nodes in the chest and, in some cases, even doing lung biopsies.