Amrita Krishnan: She looks for answers to blood cancer
Hematologic oncologist Amrita Krishnan, M.D., knew at a young age she would become a physician. Growing up, her father was an engineer and her mother a medical doctor.
“All my parents’ friends were doctors, so I think I picked it up through osmosis,” she laughed.
That early influence and years of training have since led her to City of Hope’s Division of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, where she not only treats patients with cancer, but also hunts for new therapies for some of the most tenacious blood cancers.
For example, Krishnan was instrumental in bringing hematopoietic cell transplants to patients with lymphoma related to HIV. Because physicians were concerned that these patients wouldn’t be able to tolerate the demanding procedure, they were hesitant to offer them the treatment — even though it offered a chance at cure. Krishnan demonstrated that these patients not only can bear the procedure, but benefit from it.
“That far exceeded our expectations,” she said. “Far exceeded. We have patients who had been told to get their affairs in order. Years later, they are still here.”
Now, as director of City of Hope’s Clinical Multiple Myeloma Program, Krishnan seeks to battle one of the least understood cancers and make gains in one of the most rapidly changing areas in cancer research.
“The biggest challenge is there is no known curative therapy for the disease,” she said. With so much to learn, research developments happen rapidly and the field can change at any moment.
“When we submit a proposal for a new clinical study,” she explained, “we don’t know if the questions we’re asking will still be relevant once the trial is approved.”
Multiple myeloma develops when plasma cells, part of the immune system, turn cancerous — but no one knows exactly why. Fortunately, the community of physicians and researchers studying multiple myeloma is fairly tight-knit. Investigators keep abreast of each other’s work, work together and adjust their studies to take advantage of new findings as soon as they emerge.
Even patients can get in on the act, which Krishnan wholeheartedly encourages.
“It’s more interesting and productive for the patient to be a part of the process,” she said. “And it’s especially important for myeloma patients, since so much is still unknown and changing.”
Krishnan faces the challenges inherent in her clinical research with enthusiasm, knowing the stakes are high and that potentially millions of cancer patients may be affected. It’s a daunting responsibility, but she accepts that with quiet confidence. And when it becomes a bit too intense, she finds solace in her family life.
But even there, her work might have far-reaching consequences. Because, much as she found her path early in life, her 6-year-old daughter, too, wants to be a doctor.
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