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Kanti Rai, MD

In the world of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) research, Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF) Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) member Kanti Rai, MD is one of the most revered and scientifically-cited investigators. In the 1970's, Dr. Rai and his team developed a classification system for CLL that is still widely used today. Together with his team at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Dr. Rai continues to shape the field of CLL research and his findings have a profound impact on people affected by the disease.

"I have always been intrigued by the heterogeneous nature of follicular lymphoma and of chronic lymphocytic leukemia," he said. "Why do certain individuals with these diseases have a rather rapidly progressing clinical course while others with the very same diagnoses live without any problems and for a long time? These questions have baffled me, and they drew me into the field, as if it were a challenge to figure out."

Currently, Dr. Rai's research focuses on two clinical trials studying the respective addition of new drugs, CAL 101 and PCI 32765, to chemo-immunotherapy regimens.

"Each of these two drugs is an inhibitor of certain critically important enzymes for growth of CLL cells as well as lymphoma cells," he said. "Each of these drugs has already shown very promising activity as single agents, and therefore it is now very exciting for us to test these in combination with chemotherapy."

Working with fellow CLL expert, Nicholas Chiorazzi, MD, Dr. Rai also recently published a paper in the scientific journal Blood on a mouse model they developed in which CLL cells can be grown and studied. According to Dr. Rai, this model also provides a "testing system" for new drugs before actually being implemented on humans.

After completing his medical education at the SMS Medical College of the University of Raiputana in Jaipur, India, Dr. Rai finished residencies in medicine at Mahatma Gandhi Hospital in Jodhpur, India and in pediatrics at both Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, New York and North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, New York. He finished his medical training with a fellowship in nuclear medicine and hematology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. Now, having established a long and reputable career in blood cancer research, Dr. Rai said he stays engaged with the field because of his ability to have a profound effect on the lives of people touched by a wide swath of challenging diseases.

"Certain initial successes were received enthusiastically by my professional peers which encouraged me to remain very focused and engaged in CLL and lymphoma research," Dr. Rai said. "The clinical staging of CLL that my colleagues and I proposed, decades ago, opened the doors for further research and eventually led to significantly improved therapies."

A member of the LRF SAB since 2007, Dr. Rai places immense value on the "collegiality and the intellect of the members" of the highly-esteemed group of researchers and enjoys the "open-minded banter" that often occurs during planning meetings.

"Everyone has a deep sense of commitment to finding a cure for lymphoma," he said. "The disagreements and areas of agreements are all most stimulating, challenging and, therefore, personally rewarding for me."

When asked for his best advice to a newly diagnosed lymphoma patient, Dr. Rai said to make sure to see a blood cancer expert. "Find a physician who has a special interest in treating lymphomas and leukemias and who is actively participating in research in these areas," he said.

Looking back on his experience, Dr. Rai is proud of all that he and his colleagues have accomplished, but he stressed the importance for the continuance of well-funded lymphoma research until a cure is found.

"In the course of half a century that I have spent in this field, undoubtedly, we have made significant progress," he said. "However, unfortunately this progress still falls short of the expectations of our patients. Thus, all of us involved in trying to find a cure for these deadly diseases cannot afford to sit back and relax. We must continue working until we have met our goals."

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