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A Myeloma Hero

December 13, 2022

Dr. Irene Ghobrial, Wins the 2022 William Dameshek Prize

Irene Ghobrial, MD, oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has been named the recipient of the 2022 William Dameshek Prize. Named after the late William Dameshek, MD, a past president of ASH and the original editor of Blood, the Dameshek Prize is an award given to an early- or mid-career hematologist who has made a recent outstanding contribution to hematology. Dr. Ghobrial specializes in understanding the mechanisms of myeloma disease progression from early conditions, but her greatest focus is on disrupting the cancer care model in myeloma by furthering screening for early detection, developing novel biomarkers for risk stratification, and transforming the treatment paradigm with innovative clinical trials. Dr. Ghobrial is “humbled” to be awarded the Dameshek Prize, understanding that previous recipients have contributed vastly to hematologic research. She hopes that her own translational studies will improve the way we detect and treat myeloma in the next few years.

Dr. Ghobrial is recognized for her accomplishments in initiating the first screening study (named PROMISE) for MGUS/SMM, a precursor of myeloma, in the United States. PROMISE is currently screening 30,000 high-risk individuals, such as African Americans and first-degree relatives of myeloma patients, who are two to three times more likely to develop myeloma compared to the rest of the population. According to Dr. Ghobrial, “the prevalence of early monoclonal gammopathies in these at-risk populations [is] as high as 30 to 40 percent in those older than 50 years and increases with age.” The PROMISE study is leading the way of early interception through implementing immunotherapy, including chimeric antigen receptor T-cells and bispecific antibodies, to prevent myeloma from developing.

Building a career in a vast and fast-developing field is a herculean task in and of itself, much less doing so alone. However, for Dr. Ghobrial, contributing fulfilling and innovative research to hematology is possible with collaborative and inspiring guidance in one’s corner.

Trained by Dr. Robert Kyle, the first to coin the term ‘MGUS’ and a leading researcher of early precursor myeloma, Dr. Ghobrial is influenced by a handful of mentors she has had the pleasure of working with in the past. She commends Dr. Kyle for his mentorship, claiming, “[his] support [was] a driving force in my career … His care for patients, his curiosity, and his willingness to let science lead the way and not impose his ideas on it are some of the attributes that I hope to emulate in my professional life.” She also notes a few other mentors in her field — Drs. Robert Soiffer and Kenneth Anderson — who taught her to embrace the scientific method, work for the benefit of herself and her patients, and care not only about the present state of her research, but also its potential for the future. “My very first mentor is my mother,” she said. “A hematopathologist herself, she guided me as a woman physician-scientist who can balance work and life without compromising either of them.”

Always focusing on innovation and the promise of a brighter future, Dr. Ghobrial is excited about the breakthroughs of immunotherapy. “CRISPR technology along with our understanding of molecular changes at the cellular level can help us further define the biological mechanisms of cancer progression and evolution,” she said. While the field is continuing to bring outstanding efforts in research, Dr. Ghobrial also highlights potential challenges within hematology. “I think the biggest challenges are taking those discoveries to the clinic and applying them for individualized therapy rather than treating all patients the same way,” she stated, adding her belief that hematologists should take the newest breakthroughs to redefine the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. “In most cases, we wait for patients to be symptomatic and present with cancer rather than changing the cancer care model and being proactive in finding it early at the precursor stages so that we can intercept it early,” she emphasized. “By doing so, we may be able to cure or at least significantly delay many cases of cancer and change the survival [rate] of patients, as well as change the experience of having to know about your diagnosis suddenly, and dealing with it after it has progressed and disseminated.”

For Dr. Ghobrial, hematology is a “fascinating” field, the potential of which is limitless. “[It] combines in the best of both scientific discovery and patient care.” Receiving this ASH Honorific Award inspires her to run with opportunity to contribute to hematologic research. She believes that “we will be able to apply our understanding of the molecular changes that occur in each patient, not only in their cancer genome but also in the surrounding environment, including the immune system, and harness those alterations to identify precision medicine for each patient.”

Dr. Ghobrial will be recognized with the Dameshek Prize on Tuesday, December 13, 2022, at 8:45 a.m. Central time during the Announcement of Awards session (Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Hall E).

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