National Doctors Day: Transforming cancer care through research

March 30, 2016 | by Denise Heady

 

Behind the best medical care a doctor can offer, is research.

This is particularly true of cancer. The research breakthroughs made today will shape the medical treatments — and cures — available to patients tomorrow. 

Today, on National Doctors Day, it is important that we celebrate not only the tremendous work physicians do each day to expertly care for and treat their patients, but also recognize those doctors who divide their time between patient rooms and the laboratory, relentlessly pursuing new discoveries to better manage and treat the disease. 

The proclamation that launched National Doctors Day in 1991, highlights the value of this work: 'The day-to-day work of healing conducted by physicians throughout the United States has been shaped, in large part, by great pioneers in medical research.'

Here, we’ve spotlighted a few of the physicians who are dedicated to improving the care and treatment of patients everywhere through leading-edge, world-renowned research – and conducting it all themselves, here at City of Hope. 

Behnam Badie, M.D.: Advancing technology to fight brain tumors

As chief of neurosurgery at City of Hope, Badie is working to transform brain tumor treatment through research collaborations using nanoparticles, engineered CAR-T cells, engineered stem cells and other novel treatments. Badie, along with other researchers and scientists, recently launched a clinical trial that uses patients’ own modified CAR-T cells to treat reoccurring glioblastomas, a deadly brain tumor with median survival just over 14 months. In this approach, patients receive injections – directly in the brain – of immune cells genetically modified to recognize certain markers on cancer cells. “The research being done with CAR-T cells is groundbreaking,” Badie said. “It will change the way we approach brain tumors.”

Marwan G. Fakih, M.D.: Prolonging the lives of patients with advanced colon cancers

Patients diagnosed with metastatic colorectal cancer need more options. As the third most common cancer and second leading-cause of death in the United States, patients with advanced stages of this disease often stop responding to the primary drugs used against the cancer, leaving them with few options and little hope. Fakih, co-director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program at City of Hope, is determined to increase those options. Along with other scientist and researchers at City of Hope, Fakih is conducting clinical trials that could lead to new treatments for people with colorectal cancer. These clinical trials are assessing the potential impact of a new drug – one that targets a specific activated gene product, and assess the maximum dosage of an investigational drug when used with a well-known three-drug chemotherapy regimen in patients who haven’t been helped by other therapies.

Stephen J. Forman, M.D.: Revolutionizing the treatment of cancer

Forman, the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, is known worldwide for his pioneering breakthroughs in blood and bone marrow transplants. He’s not just witnessed, but guided, the evolution of hematologic cancer treatment. Today, he’s on the forefront of a specific kind of immunotherapy, known as T cell therapy. This type of therapy doesn’t boost the immune system, it transforms it. Forman and City of Hope are launching a wave of clinical trials of this type of therapy for leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors and even ovarian cancer.

Yuman Fong, M.D.: Using viral therapy to treat cancers

Fong is an internationally recognized expert in liver and pancreatic cancer and in the use of genetically modified viruses to combat malignant disease. He has been a pioneer both in the operating room and in the laboratory, crafting new surgical techniques and instruments and creating entirely new treatment methods. Especially notable is his track record of launching human clinical trials of genetically modified viruses with the potential to fight cancer. At City of Hope, a number of viral therapy trials are coming to maturity that will help advance new treatments to kill cancer. “Fifteen years ago, when I began working with viral therapy, it was thought to be so radical,” Fong said. “Now, it’s a whole new field that is exploding, and we at City of Hope have done as much as anyone to advance it.”

Ellie Maghami, M.D.: Transforming head and neck surgery

Surgery for head and neck cancers is complex, requiring extreme skill, extensive knowledge and experience with the latest technology. Maghami, chief of head and neck surgery at City of Hope, is one of a small group of leading physicians from across the United States who develop guidelines for the treatment of these intricate cancers. Maghami's current research focuses on improving surgical procedures to treat head and neck cancers, particularly minimally-invasive and robotically-assisted approaches that can reduce blood loss, pain and recovery time while delivering optimal outcomes. “City of Hope is a center of excellence,” said Maghami, The Norman and Sadie Lee Professor in Head and Neck Cancer. “We sit at the national table evaluating diseases from the most recent information coming out of labs and clinical trials. We also institute more clinical trials here than anywhere else.” But what truly sets Maghami and her team apart is not only their abilities to perform complex, leading-edge procedures with the latest technology, but their comprehensive and compassionate approach to patients.

Joanne Mortimer, M.D.: Developing innovative treatments for breast cancer patients

Mortimer, director of the Women’s Cancers Program, is working on a new way of identifying which breast cancer patients might respond better to specific treatments. Using a novel PET imaging agent, 64Cu-DOTA trastuzumab, developed at City of Hope, Mortimer and her colleagues use PET scans to highlight areas of the body with HER2 positive cancer cells. This approach improves therapy by identifying whether a woman should be treated with HER2-specific treatments — as well as where the cancer has spread, information that biopsies from a single site can’t provide.

Sumanta Kumar Pal, M.D.: Improving the lives of patients with bladder cancer

For the past 30 years, there have been few significant treatment advances in bladder cancer. Pal, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, is working to change that. Pal’s research is focused on finding ways to better understand how cancers develop and metastasize, better predict cancer recurrence and improve treatments with fewer negative side effects. “Before, traditional chemotherapy used to cause a whole host of side effects such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue and so on. Now, immune-based treatments have improved quality of life in all respects. Patients may live longer and may have less suffering due to side effects,” Pal said. He has also found that using checkpoint inhibitors, which harness the power of a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer, shows a lot of promise for patients with bladder cancer.

Yanghee Woo, M.D.: Improving the lives of patients with stomach cancer

Early-stage stomach cancer is curable – and getting more curable all the time. Better detection gets the credit for that. So does increased knowledge of risk. Woo, the director of City of Hope’s Gastroenterology Minimally Invasive Therapy Program, and director of international surgery, is committed to improving the current picture even further. She is actively researching better ways to detect, treat and prevent gastric cancer. This includes improving robotic and laparoscopic surgeries, enhancing early detection and prevention efforts in high-risk populations and identifying biological, molecular and genetic markers that can lead to better treatment planning. As a translational member of Fong’s laboratory, she is part of the City of Hope team working to soon bring novel oncolytic viruses to our patients to cure cancer.

Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D.: Identifying risks and disparities in Latina women

As a leading genetics researcher, Weitzel has devoted his career to helping people and populations at increased risk for developing cancer because of family history or personal risk factors. His research is focused on investigating disparities in cancer incidence among Latina women, including the role of BRCA gene mutations, which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. He led a groundbreaking study that revealed that BRCA mutations may be present in 25 percent of U.S. Hispanic women, leading to calls for increased genetic testing and counseling. Weitzel is at the forefront of developing low-cost genetic screening materials as well as training doctors and nurses for underserved populations in Peru, Colombia and Mexico.

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This list is far from exhaustive, as City of Hope’s research and surgical teams include many talented individuals dedicated to uncovering leading-edge research, technology, medications and techniques.  

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If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-4673. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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