Faculty Spotlight: Q&A With Monique Hartley-Brown, MD, MMSc

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Why did you decide to work in oncology?

Many close family and friends I know and grew up with were directly affected by cancer, some of whom died and others who suffered significantly. This sparked my interest in hematology and oncology. During my medical school training at New York University School of Medicine, my mother unfortunately succumbed to multiple myeloma. At the time, there was little I knew regarding this disease and even less I could do to help her. Since then, I decided to carve a career in the field of medical oncology, to help other people with cancer. Thankfully, the advances in medical oncology research and knowledge have grown, but there is more to be done. I hope to honor my mother by helping others, and also significantly contribute to the advance of cancer treatments.

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 multiple myeloma. This is an incurable blood cancer that affects African Americans more prevalently than other ethnic populations. It is an area of interest that is personal to me because it is the disease that my mother died from. In addition, as an African American, health care equity is an area of interest of mine. Being a researcher and clinician in this specialty allows me to contribute to improving and equalizing care for all multiple myeloma patients.

What are the main challenges in this area? How do you address these challenges with patients and families?

There are many clinical challenges in treating multiple myeloma. I often explain to patients, the word "multiple" highlights the multiple genetic mutations, multiple clinical presentations, and multiple complications of this disease. Since the 1950s, multiple myeloma has been known as a blood cancer, yet a cure remains to be found. Many advances have been made, and survival outcomes are favorably improved, yet the cure is elusive. The way I address these challenges with patients is to encourage hope and promise in further research and clinical improvement that will lead to ongoing improved survival and finding a cure for this disease.

Describe your research work in multiple myeloma. Why is this an area of interest to you?

My clinical research focuses in the relapsed/refractory myeloma disease setting – mainly leading clinical trials through collaborative consortium efforts, such as the Alliance for Clinical Trials, investigator-initiated and investigator-sponsored trials. My area of interest in clinical trials includes use of immunotherapies and targeted therapies, such as bi-specific/tri-specific antibodies, antibody-drug conjugates, and modern immune modulating drugs (such as cereblon modulators), in combination therapy. This is an area of interest to me because myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, which are a main component of the immune system. I believe immune modulation likely holds the key to the potential cure for myeloma. Improving immunotherapy through clinical research will advance clinical outcomes in myeloma patients and possibly lead to a cure.

What are you most excited about in the area of multiple myeloma? What holds promise for patients?

This is a great question. Many treatment advances have been made in multiple myeloma over the past 5-10 years, which is so exciting. These clinical and research advances have more than doubled the median survival outcomes for patients with multiple myeloma during the past 10 years. I believe the momentum in advancement for myeloma outcomes is increasing, mainly through research, clinical awareness, and diagnostic and therapeutic advancements. Collaborative preclinical, translational, and clinical research, combined with a multidisciplinary approach to clinical care and management of myeloma patients, holds the promise for cure.

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

I love spending time with my children, close family, and friends when I'm not busy with clinical research or patient care. I also enjoy traveling, learning new activities, and challenging myself physically doing new fun exercises and outdoor activities. Karaoke/singing, dancing, and beach time are also top on the list of fun things I like to do.