Dr. John Leonard Awarded for Outstanding Patient Care

IMG_6169The Lymphoma Program’s Dr. John Leonard was granted the prestigious 2017 Miriam G. Wallach Award for Excellence in Humanistic Medical Care at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s Physician of the Year event, as presented by the Department of Nursing. The award honors a physician who exemplifies altruistic and humanistic qualities and displays exceptional dedication to providing outstanding, compassionate patient-centered care.

Dr. Cam Patterson, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine, helped to introduce Dr. Leonard and present the award. He noted that Dr. Leonard is widely acknowledged by his colleagues both locally and nationally for his stature in the field of lymphoma research and care, especially known for his astuteness in taking on challenging cases, such as treating pregnant women with lymphoma. He is also regarded as a great partner to his nursing colleagues.

“Receiving an award that is reflective of the feelings of the nursing staff is about as good as it gets,” said Dr. Leonard.

In his acceptance remarks, Dr. Leonard described interactions with his patients staying in the hospital the previous evening. Throughout the course of his visits, conversation topics spanned serious, difficult discussions, as well as some of a more lighthearted nature, including doubles tennis and the New York Yankees.

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Dr. Leonard explained that making his rounds took only a few minutes, but it was the most fun part of his day, and it made a difference to his patients. He noted that small interactions, such as sitting down to talk and certain intricacies in the way that we connect with one another, have the potential to make a huge difference in our relationships.

“These things that you do on a daily basis and don’t even think of affect patients, colleagues and trainees,” said Dr. Leonard. “If we understand that and deliberately carry it through [to practice], we can make an even greater difference for our patients.”

Global Collaboration: Lymphoma Researchers Attend Workshop at Shanghai Institute of Hematology

In early July, several researchers from the Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian (WCM/NYP) Lymphoma Program traveled to Shanghai, China to participate in the first Lymphoma Research Workshop, jointly sponsored by WCM/NYP and Shanghai Institute of Hematology (SIH). The workshop aimed to foster clinical and translational research exchange and collaboration, with the goal of further global alliance with leading Chinese institutions.

Our own Drs. Leandro Cerchietti, Peter Martin, Ari Melnick, Kristy Richards, and Jia Ruan were in attendance. Drs. Melnick and Ruan co-organized the workshop with Drs. Saijuan Chen and Weili Zhao from SIH. SIH and its affiliated Ruijin Hospital (RJH) is a leader in human genomics and lymphoma research in China.

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Dr. Ari Melnick (Left) and Dr. Jia Ruan

Dr. Melnick began by introducing the lymphoma research missions at WCM/NYP and provided an overview of our translational program, which integrates state-of-the-art genetic, epigenetic, and proteomic approaches to study lymphoma pathogenesis and inform development of mechanism-based therapeutics.

Dr. Zhao followed with a review of the recent lymphoma program developments at Ruijin Hospital, which focuses on building a multi-disciplinary diagnosis and treatment team. RJH’s translational development has been aimed at building a lymphoma biobank, next-generation sequencing, system biology, and biomarker investigations to support clinical research.

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Dr. Peter Martin (Left) and Dr. Leandro Cerchietti

On the project level, Dr. Cerchietti discussed bench-to-bedside translation of epigenetic modifying agents, such as novel treatments that sensitize chemotherapy responses in patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Dr. Martin then provided a comprehensive overview of the management approach for DLBCL in the U.S., reviewing important study design and findings of DLBCL clinical trials that incorporated novel agents, including epigenetic modifiers. Dr. Richards spoke about promises and challenges in canine lymphoma research in both the disease and drug development models.

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Dr. Kristy Richards

Additionally, Dr. Pengpeng Xu from RJH presented preliminary data of a phase 1 study using an epigenetic hypomethylating agent in combination with chemotherapy for DLBCL patients. This joint clinical project developed from the two institutions’ shared translational interest and expertise in exploring therapeutic potential of epigenetic agents in lymphoma.

Drs. Ruan and Melnick concluded the workshop by thanking the hosts at the Shanghai Institute of Hematology and Ruijin Hospital for their gracious hospitality. Faculty from both institutions are impressed by the progress of the ongoing collaboration and support further development of translational and clinical projects in the future, including academic exchange and joint translational and clinical trials.

 

Dr. John Leonard Comments on CAR T-Cell Therapy Outlook

Dr. John Leonard at State of the Science SummitChimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is an emerging form of immunotherapy that leverages the strength of a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Immune cells called T-cells are extracted from the patient’s blood and modified in the laboratory to produce chimeric antigen receptors, surface-level proteins that enable the T-cells to recognize and fight targeted antigenic tumor cells. The newly engineered T-cells are then cultivated in a lab before infusion back into the patient’s body, where they further multiply and go to work attacking cells that possess the antigen that they were programmed to destroy.

At the OncLive State of the Science Summit on Treatment of Hematologic Malignancies, Dr. John Leonard, who served as co-chair for the May 4 event, expressed promise in the use of CAR T-cell therapy for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), in particular.

Dr. Leonard said that in a small group of clinical trial recipients with ALL, the immunotherapy has produced excellent, seemingly durable responses, and more data on CAR T-cells for patients with hard-to-treat lymphomas, like resistant forms of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), are forthcoming.

While patient selection is a crucial part of interpreting the data and planning for the future, Dr. Leonard believes that the main challenges in the development of CAR T-cell therapy relate to factors of patient selection such age, comorbidities, and aggressive cancers with prohibitive wait times for engineered cells, which can take as long as several weeks depending on the specific CAR product being used.

 “I think there’s no doubt that some patients benefit, but at least in the near-term, it’s going to be a relatively small number of patients that will get CAR T-cells for lymphoma,” he said.

Check out what else Dr. Leonard had to say about CAR T-cells in this video from OncLive: