Sylvester Researchers Receive National Cancer Institute’s Career Development Awards

Namrata Chandhok, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Hematology, has a deep interest in developing personalized cancer treatments. “I hope my research will help us move toward a more nuanced therapeutic approach by identifying predictive biomarkers that will tell us whether a drug in question will benefit a particular patient,” she said.

Dr. Chandhok is one of three researchers at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine to receive a 2021 Paul Calabresi Career Development Award for Clinical Oncology (PCACO) K12 from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“Sylvester has one of only 22 NCI-funded K12 programs in the country,” said Alan Pollack, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology and interim deputy director of Sylvester. “Since launching our K12 program in 2018, we have had five faculty scholars who are well on their way to becoming leaders in patient-oriented, translational cancer research.”

Dr. Pollack announced Sylvester’s third cohort of Calabresi Scholars, who will be starting the program in June. “The NCI funds two scholars for two-year terms,” he said. “This year, we are supporting a third scholar from our own cancer center funds as a commitment to this important program.”

Dr. Chandhok’s project, Exploiting Defective DNA Damage Repair in Isocitrate Dehydrogenase Mutant Acute Myeloid Leukemia and Myelodysplastic Syndrome to Develop Novel Therapeutic Strategies, centers on a drug used in other cancers to see if it evokes a stronger response in patients with these blood-borne cancers. “The ultimate goal is to improve the lives of patients with acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome by moving scientific discoveries from our laboratories to the bedside,” she said.

Janaki Sharma, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Medical Oncology, is another scholar awardee. Her project, Repurposing Riociguat: A Novel Therapeutic Option for Prostate Cancer, looks at a potential new option for the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer. “This career development award will allow me to bring a new discovery in the laboratory to patients and to progress in my career as a researcher,” she said. “It also represents our institution’s trust and confidence in me and my project to advance the science of prostate cancer treatment.”

This year’s third scholar is Trent Wang, D.O., M.P.H., assistant professor in the Division of Transplantation and Cellular Therapy. His project is MEK Inhibition for the Prevention of Graft-Versus-Host Disease in Combination with Conventional Prophylaxis after Allogeneic Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.

Dr. Wang noted that 50 to 70 percent of patients who receive transplanted donor bone marrow stem cells for a number of conditions, such as leukemias, face the challenge of acute graft-versus-host disease, which may be associated with significant side effects and be difficult to control. “My research priority to is to reduce the bone marrow transplant toxicities and make this curative approach more broadly accessible,” he said. “This award will allow me to collaborate with basic scientists and to implement a clinical trial that I hope will benefit our patients.”

Dr. Pollack introduced the three new scholars at the annual K12 Paul Calabresi Symposium, a March 12 virtual conference that brought together current and former scholars, former K12 scholars from other institutions, and principal investigators of K12 grants from four prominent institutions to share their experiences and formulas for success.

Scott Kopetz, M.D., Ph.D., professor and deputy chair of GI oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, delivered the keynote address, “Learning from the Patient: Adaptive Resistance in Colorectal Cancer.” A prior K12 scholar and a current co-PI of a K12 grant, Dr. Kopetz advised cancer researchers to design their studies so the results will provide insights, even if they fail. “We all anticipate that our ideas will work and provide a meaningful advance for our patients,” he said. “But if they fail, we still can learn something from that outcome. We owe that to our patients.”

At the symposium, Sylvester’s five current Calabresi Scholars presented their studies:

  • Juan Alderuccio, M.D., hematology, “Prognostic Value of Metabolic Tumor Volume in Relapsed-Refractory Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma.”
  • Neha Goel, M.D., surgical oncology, “Breast Cancer Outcomes Among a Diverse Racial/Ethnic South Florida Population: Novel Characterization of the Hispanic Black Population.”
  • Eric Mellon, M.D., Ph.D., radiation oncology, “Daily Multiparametric MRI of Glioblastoma During Primary Chemoradiation Therapy.”
  • Terrence Bradley, M.D., hematology, “LSD1 inhibition in Myeloproliferative Neoplasms.”
  • Daniel O’Neil, M.D., M.P.H., medical oncology, “Defining Multifactorial Causes of Breast Cancer Survival Disparities in Women Living with HIV.”

Three noted researchers took part in a career development panel at the symposium: Justin Bekelman, M.D., professor at the University of Pennsylvania; Christine Lovly, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at Vanderbilt University; and Thomas Ow, M.D., M.S., associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. They encouraged the new Sylvester scholars to follow their passions when choosing research topics. As Dr. Ow said, “You have to know yourself and find the right balance between research and clinical care.”

Tags: Dr. Alan Pollack, Paul Calabresi Career Development Award for Clinical Oncology K12, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center