International women’s day: 7 women changing the world of cancer treatment

March 8, 2016 | by City of Hope

International womens day City of Hope celebrates its physicians and scientists on International Women's Day

Today marks International Women’s Day, an annual observance that honors the struggles and achievements of women around the world.

As the United Nations declares, “International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”

At City of Hope, we’re proud to have some of the most talented and passionate women in the medical industry serving at every level of the organization. 

Here, we’ve spotlighted several of the many City of Hope physicians and scientists who are breaking exciting new ground in cancer research, treatment and care.   

Karen S. Aboody, M.D.: Mastering and molding neural stem cells to attack brain cancer

A professor in the Department of Developmental and Stem Cell Biology and Division of Neurosurgery, Aboody is at the forefront of research into the use of neural stem cells to treat brain tumors. Although the mass of a glioblastoma, the most aggressive and common type of primary brain tumor in adults, can be removed surgically, removal of all the tumor cells is virtually impossible, so recurrence is common. Aboody believes that neural stem cells, which have the ability to become any type of cell in the nervous system, could deliver drugs directly to the tumor sites, sparing healthy tissues and minimizing side effects. City of Hope is currently conducting a phase 1 clinical trial of neural stem cells to treat glioblastoma.

Loretta Erhunmwunsee, M.D.: Eradicating disparities in outcomes based on race and income 

A graduate of Emory University and Harvard Medical School, Erhunmwunsee focuses her surgical expertise on lung, esophageal and mediastinal tumors. As an assistant professor in the Division of Thoracic Surgery, she has contributed to important research that highlights how race and income affect survival rates among those who undergo esophageal surgery. “Being aware of the factors that are linked to higher death rates can empower patients to be more active with their own health and medical care,” said Erhunmwunsee. “We hope that awareness of the problem among physicians and patients alike will lead to more public and professional focus on solving this disparity. Strategies could focus on new health policies that take into account socioeconomic disparities and help eradicate any unfair practices by health systems.”

Arti Hurria, M.D.: Improving treatment and care for seniors

Cancer care has few protocols for the elderly. As director of City of Hope’s Cancer and Aging Research Program, Hurria is working to change that by creating new tools to better evaluate the health of seniors diagnosed with cancer. A professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and Department of Population Sciences, she is involved in leading-edge research into the effects of chemotherapy on older patients with breast cancer. Her parents, both doctors, were a key influence on her pursuing a medical career and on her specialty. “My parents emigrated from India, where older adults are very revered,” said Hurria. “I became a geriatrician first and have always loved caring for older people. They bring their whole life experiences, stories and wisdom. Later, I realized how little data there was about caring for older adults with cancer and decided to try to bridge these two fields.”

Amrita Y. Krishnan, M.D.: Maximizing the potential of targeted drugs for myeloma

While targeted therapies have become the norm in the treatment of many cancers, only recently has myeloma benefited from them. In November, the Federal Drug Administration approved two new antibodies (daratumumab and elotuzumab) that show promise in the treatment of multiple myeloma, a development that bodes very well for patients suffering from the disease. “Patients who have not responded to other treatments are having more success with immunotherapies, and that is truly remarkable,” said Krishnan, director of the Multiple Myeloma Program at City of Hope. “We now have the potential to study these therapies in other novel combinations that could improve the survival rate, as well as long-term remissions, for multiple myeloma patients.”

Laura Kruper, M.D., M.S.: Advancing surgical treatment of breast cancer patients

A surgical oncologist and longtime advocate for breast cancer education, Kruper has contributed to groundbreaking research on mastectomies and reconstructive surgery. Surgical treatment of breast cancer, a disease that one in every eight women will be diagnosed with during her lifetime, brings with it a host of physical and emotional ramifications. So Kruper, head of breast surgery service at City of Hope, works to maximize a treatment's impact while minimizing its side effects. For example, advanced skin- and nipple-sparing techniques, as well as leading-edge plastic and reconstructive procedures, can be very effective in treating breast cancer while reducing the impact on physical appearance.

Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S.: Pushing the edges of immunotherapy

As co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope and medical director for clinical research operations, Reckamp knows all too well that chemotherapy, as effective as it is, has some major drawbacks. “The main problem with chemotherapy and even the targeted therapies that we have,” she said in this overview of lung cancer research, “is that at some point the tumor becomes resistant to the treatment.” Reckamp is now exploring targeted immunotherapies that can improve survival rates by activating a patient’s immune system to do the work of attacking the cancer, specifically lung cancer. 

Hua Yu, Ph.D.: Revolutionizing the treatment of cancer

An internationally known expert in tumor immunotherapy and co-leader of City of Hope’s Immuno-Oncology Program, Yu recently played a major role in a discovery that could revolutionize the treatment of cancer. Along with Andreas Herrmann, Ph.D., Yu devised a game-changing technology to chemically modify antibodies so that they cross cell membranes to disable disease-causing proteins inside cells without compromising their ability to recognize specific targets. “This novel technology has the potential to revolutionize medicine,” said Yu, the Billy and Audrey L. Wilder Professor in Tumor Immunotherapy, and professor and associate chair of the Department of Immuno-Oncology. “Antibodies that can penetrate the cell could be used to treat what, up to now, have been incurable diseases, including deadly malignancies like pancreatic cancer and even infectious diseases like HIV.”

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This list is far from exhaustive, as City of Hope’s research and surgical teams include many talented women dedicated to uncovering leading-edge research, technology, medications and techniques. On International Women’s Day, we celebrate their indispensable contributions to medicine and the peerless care they provide to patients every day.

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If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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