Researcher Spotlight: Hema Dave, MD

Children’s Research Institute (Children’s National Medical Center)

 

Dr. Dave is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Children’s National Health System, The George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Her Lymphoma Clinical Research Mentoring Program (LCRMP) project tests options for Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) patients whose lymphoma proves resistant to standard therapies. “10 to 20 percent of patients are resistant to treatment and difficult to cure,” Dr. Dave notes. She adds that this resistance arises from the unique structure of HL, in which the tumor cells are surrounded by a microenvironment that allows it to escape normal immune system functions. “The goal of this project is to understand how we can change the tumor microenvironment sufficiently to unleash pre-existing anti-tumor immune responses and allow more successful incorporation of killer T-cells [the immune cells that attack malignant cells in normal immune system functions].” Recently, both targeted agents such as brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris) and PD-1 checkpoint inhibitors such as nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) have had some success in relapsed HL. Dr. Dave and her collaborators hope to determine if a combination of PD-1 inhibitors and killer-T that have been trained in the laboratory to recognize Hodgkin lymphoma cells will boost immune function and prompt an effective long-term response for patients who have failed brentuximab. Since a large number of HL patients are children, adolescents, or young adults, Dr. Dave is hopeful that this combination will also have fewer long-term side effects than conventional chemotherapy, as well as address the “significant unmet medical need” of effective therapies for relapsed HL.

Dr. Dave completed her initial medical studies at the University of Mumbai and received an MPH in Epidemiology from the University of Massachusetts before pursuing a career as a pediatric oncologist with an internship at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and a residency and fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital and National Cancer Institute. She notes she was drawn to hematologic cancers because of the breakthrough discoveries over the last few decades, but adds “the most challenging and, at the same time, intellectually stimulating fact is the static survival rates of patients who relapse or who are not able to achieve remission.”

Dr. Dave adds that she receives inspiration from both her patients and her six year old daughter, “who is ever so curious about my ‘cells’ in the laboratory and whether they will make my patient better.” It is these patients Dr. Dave hopes to aid with her research into immunotherapies, on which she notes she is “fortunate to be surrounded by…experts throughout my training and as a junior faculty,” particularly with her LCRMP mentor, Catherine Bollard, MD. “I was fortunate to get involved in a clinical trial sponsored by the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), when Dr. Bollard recognized my interests in lymphoma research and skillsets of T-cell development and immune monitoring,” she says.

Dr. Dave now hopes that the LCRMP will offer a similar opportunity to gain valuable mentorship and skills. “With the LCRMP, I will be able to increase my knowledge about clinical trial design and management skills, the current trends in lymphoma research and T-cell immunobiology, as well as build long-term mentoring relationships,” she says. “I hope to get constructive critiques so that I can design trials that are realistic scientifically, and make a difference to the outcomes of children with hematologic malignancies. I am very thankful to the Lymphoma Research Foundation for my selection and all the work the Foundation does in search of the best cure for both adults and children with lymphoma.”