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Faculty Spotlight: Q&A with Rahul Vedula, MD

  • Advances in Hematologic Malignancies
    Issue 12, Summer 2020


    Why did you decide to work in oncology?

    My rotations on the inpatient oncology services during my internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital drove my desire become an oncologist. I experienced firsthand the extraordinary relationships oncologists build with patients and their families, all while the field of cancer medicine was changing rapidly. This mix of delivering humanistic patient care while learning about the exciting scientific breakthroughs in oncology made my decision easy.

    Tell us about the condition(s) you specialize in. Why is this an area of interest to you? What led you to focus here?

    I specialize in the care of patients with myeloid malignancies such as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and leukemias. In the laboratory, I am focused on studying how MDS-associated genetic mutations cooperate with one another to drive disease progression. These are clinically and biologically diverse groups of bone-marrow derived cancers, ranging from those managed as chronic diseases in the outpatient clinic to those that require acute intensive care in the hospital. Our knowledge of the molecular underpinnings of these diseases has grown immensely over the past decade, and the variety of patients we see makes every day stimulating and gratifying.

    What are the main challenges in this area? How do you address these challenges?

    Patients with MDS span a range of clinical severity and treatment needs. Some patients are dependent on blood product transfusions, and some are at high risk of progressing to acute leukemia. Allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplant remains the only potentially curative therapy for MDS; however, many patients currently can’t receive a transplant because of their age and associated medical problems. These challenges necessitate patient and disease-specific personalized care, with a team effort involving providers in our leukemia and stem cell transplant programs.

    Describe your vision for the research work that will be done through the Evans Center.

    The Edward P. Evans Center for MDS presents an exciting opportunity to further integrate clinical and basic science research at Dana-Farber. Novel treatment strategies for patients who are not candidates for transplant and approaches to improve the efficacy of transplant in high-risk groups are particular areas of need. The Evans Center will enhance the ability for collaborative, transformative research across the institute to be readily translated to patients.

    What are you most excited about in MDS? What holds promise for patients?

    I am most excited that the scientific research advances in MDS/AML biology and genetics are leading to therapeutic strategies in clinical trials for patients with higher-risk MDS, an area with limited approved therapies. Given the average age of patients with MDS and the prohibitive nature of transplant for many, disease-modifying therapies in this space to prevent progression to leukemia are critical. This is an expanding area right now, but agents such as bcl-2 inhibitors that sensitize MDS and leukemia cells for death with other types of chemotherapy are particularly promising.

    What do you like to do when you’re not caring for patients/doing research? What do you do for fun?

    Time with my wife and two-year-old daughter is my favorite! We love traveling, walks in the woods, and spending time outdoors. I enjoy gardening, skiing, tennis, and of course … all things Boston sports.

    Learn more about Dr. Vedula