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 lymphomaOne of the two major types of lymphoma that begin in the lymph nodes and tissues of the lymphatic system. All other lymphomas are classified as non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Hodgkin lymphoma has characteristic cell, the Reed-Sternberg cell, seen by the pathologist under the microscope when looking at the tissue from the biopsy. (HL) patients whose lymphoma proves resistant to standard therapies. “10 to 20 percent of patients are resistant to treatment and difficult to cureThere are no signs or symptoms of lymphoma, and a significant period of time (usually defined by years) has passed during which there are no relapses.,” Dr. Dave notes. She adds that this resistance arises from the unique structure of HL, in which the tumorAn abnormal mass or swelling of tissue, that can occur  anywhere in the body. cells are surrounded by a microenvironment that allows it to escape normal immune systemOne of the body's defense mechanisms. All lymphomas are a disease of the 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 malignantA tumor which is cancerous. 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 chemotherapyTreatment with drugs to stop the growth of rapidly dividing cancer cells, including lymphoma cells., 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 oncologistA physician who specializes in treating cancer. with an internship at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and a residency and fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital and National CancerAbnormal cell growth that cannot be controlled by the body's natural defenses. Cancerous cells can grow and eventually form tumors. 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 relapseA disease that reappears or grows again after a period of remission. or who are not able to achieve remissionThe absence of disease. Remission does not necessarily indicate that a person is cured. Patients may have complete or partial 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 trialA research study to test how well new medical approaches work in people. sponsored by the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), when Dr. Bollard recognized my interests in lymphoma research and skillsets of T-cellA type of white blood cell that participates in immune responses by destroying harmful substances or cells. 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.”