Researcher Spotlight: Danielle Brander, MD

Duke University

 

Dr. Brander is a second year faculty member in the Division of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapy at Duke University. Her interests as a research clinician are improving and developing novel therapies for indolent B-cell lymphomas, which she notes is currently a rapidly growing area for research following the approval of targeted agents such as ibrutinib (Imbruvica) and idelalisib (Zydelig). “After the initial excitement of [the new therapies’] availability came the rapid onset of questions in treating patients in the general population” Dr. Brander says. “How do we best use these agents including dose modifications, timing/initiation, duration and setting? How do we recognize the risks associated with the use of these new drugs including toxicities, resistance, and the significant… financial burden of a continuous medication?” To help her better address these questions, Dr. Brander applied to the LRF Clinical Research Mentoring Workshop (LCRMP). “In order to develop the indolent lymphoma niche at Duke, I recognized that I required additional training dedicated to the lymphoid malignancies and the nuances of clinical and translational research in this field.”

After being selected as an LRF Scholar, Dr. Brander attended the LCRMP Workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2015. With the help of the LCRMP faculty, she was able to further develop her project, a clinical trial for patients with previously treated chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL) and mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), which combines ibrutinib with a new potential therapy that inhibits the protein PI3K. The PI3K inhibitor “kills more cancer cells in the lab and may prevent resistance to either drug alone,” Dr. Brander notes. “My ultimate goal for this project … was to define a combinatory treatment that could be safely tolerated and eventually lead to changes in response and therefore needed duration of exposure.”

Dr. Brander completed her MD, residency, and fellowship at Duke University Medical School before taking her current position as Medical Instructor. She credits her commitment to lymphoma research to the support of her own family and her professional mentors, including Drs. J. Brice Weinberg, Daphne Freidman, David Rizzieri (her LCRMP institutional mentor), Louis Diehl, Anne Beaven, and Sandeep Dave (an LRF Scientific Advisory Board member). “I was fortunate to build a team at Duke where I would have the support of clinical and translational mentors within the hematologic malignancies, while having the freedom to fill a unique research niche in the indolent lymphomas,” she notes. It is her patients and their families, however, who provide the most inspiration. “During my training and early career experiences I have increasingly appreciated the striking heterogeneity of any given cancer diagnosis – not only in the marked variation of aggressiveness and treatment response of the malignant cells; but also in recognizing the important variables of the individual cancer patient…and how this affects their experience. I can only learn this diversity because of the hundreds of patients past and present who entrust me as part of their care team, and for this I feel humbled and committed to paying it forward through work to understand disease biology and translate this understanding to better care alternatives.”