Lisa M. Rimsza, MD
As a first year pathology resident at the University of Arizona, Lisa M. Rimsza, MD became interested in lymphoma after starting a project examining different ways to evaluate drug resistance mechanisms in lymphoma. The field fascinated her enough to lead her to complete a fellowship in hematopathology at the University of New Mexico.
"I have always been drawn by the complexity of the diagnostic process in hematopathology including the blending of clinical history with microscopic findings together with special studies such as immunophenotyping, cytogenetics and molecular biology," she said. "This integration occurs to a much greater degree in hematopathology than in other areas of pathology."
A three-year member of the Lymphoma Research Foundation's (LRF) Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and Mantle Cell Lymphoma Consortium (MCLC), Dr. Rimsza has also assisted with LRF's patient education programming, speaking at an Ask the Doctor event in Arizona.
"I enjoy being a member of the LRF's Scientific Advisory Board as an opportunity to find out about the concerns of the larger lymphoma community," she said. "I hear perspectives from patient advocates, medical oncologists, other pathologists, basic science and translational researchers, fundraisers and others involved in the field of lymphoma. I feel that I can donate my time and expertise to help the organization with grant selection and discussions of policy and direction."
Dr. Rimsza is currently studying how lymphoma tumors learn to avoid a patient's immune system. One way lymphoma cells proliferate is by tricking the proteins on a person's white blood cells into not recognizing the cancer cells as dangerous invaders. More specifically, Dr. Rimsza's research has direct implications for people with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma.
"We are now narrowing in on the mechanisms of how the lymphoma cells do this, and we are looking at ways to reverse this situation," she said. "It is exciting to think about using the patient's own immune system to rid the body of lymphoma."
Additionally, Dr. Rimsza has a leading role with the Lymphoma and Leukemia Molecular Profiling Project, a consortium of blood cancer experts from across the country, including other LRF SAB members. The researchers have collaborated to profile gene activity in lymphoma cells, resulting in the discovery of new lymphoma subtypes and gene activity "signatures." These "signatures" aid physicians in accurately diagnosing the most common aggressive lymphomas and "deliver very accurate prognostic information about the patient's likelihood of survival," she said.
"The signatures have also taught us a lot about the biology of the different types of lymphoma; what makes the tumors tick and what might be their vulnerable spots to aim for with treatment," Dr. Rimsza said. "Our consortium and others are now adapting this information into new laboratory techniques. Our goal is to make the information on the signatures available to all patients no matter where their biopsy was performed. This will be an exciting new era in lymphoma; better diagnoses, accurate prognostic information and identification of targets of therapy for each tumor type."
When asked what advice she would give to a newly diagnosed lymphoma patient, Dr. Rimsza had two things to say. First, to ensure that a diagnosis is correct, confirm it with a hematopathologist with expertise in the field. Second, further the potential of lymphoma research by considering participating in a study.
"The right therapy cannot even begin without the right diagnosis. Do not be afraid to ask questions or seek out a second opinion," she said. "Most of the recent progress in the understanding of new types of lymphoma and identification of the vulnerable spots for targeted treatment has come from studies based on tissue biopsies from patients. If approached for your consent to use excess tissue from your biopsy for research purposes, please consider saying yes."
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