Researcher Spotlight: Sarah Rutherford, MD

Weill Cornell Medicine


Dr. Rutherford is Assistant Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. Her Lymphoma Clinical Research Mentoring Program (LCRMP) project seeks to use imaging to tailor treatment plans for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) patients. Most DLBCL patients with advanced stageThe extent of cancer in the body, including whether the disease has spread from the original site to other body parts. disease receive a combination therapy called R-CHOP [rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, prednisone], given in six cycles every three weeks. Though effective for two-thirds of patients, R-CHOP is an intense therapy that regularly has side effects for patients. Dr. Rutherford and her collaborators would like to use the PET/CT (positron emission tomographyA test that evaluates metabolic activity in different parts of the body using radioisotope. or computerized tomography) scan regularly done after two R-CHOP treatments to gauge which patients are best responding to treatment. “We predict that a substantial number of patients have no evidence of lymphoma on the interim PET/CT and can be considered for a total of four rather than six R-CHOP treatments,” Dr. Rutherford says. “The ultimate goal is to decrease side effects that patients experience while maintaining excellent 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. rates in DLBCL.”

Dr. Rutherford entered medical school at the University of Virginia planning to become a hematologistA physician who specializes in treating diseases of the blood and blood forming tissues./oncologist, when her father was diagnosed with 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. in her first year. “As he neared the completion of chemotherapyTreatment with drugs to stop the growth of rapidly dividing cancer cells, including lymphoma cells., I had the opportunity to spend a summer working with [past LRF Scientific Advisory Board Chair] Dr. John Leonard at Weill Cornell. This was a defining moment in my training and led me to pursue a career focused on lymphoma.” After a residency at Thomas Jefferson University, Dr. Rutherford returned to Weill Cornell to complete her fellowship and ultimately join the faculty. She hopes to continue to pursue clinical research for aggressive lymphomasLymphomas that are fast growing and generally need to be treated immediately. Also called intermediate-grade or high-grade lymphomas. such as DLBCL as her career progresses. “My goals are to decrease therapy for patients with favorable characteristics and to use novel treatment strategies to improve responses in patients with more aggressive disease.”

Dr. Rutherford notes that her career goals will be aided by her participation in the LCRMP. “Under the guidance of the mentors of the LRF program, I will make appropriate adjustments to my initial proposal in order to solidify the foundation for a successful clinical trialA research study to test how well new medical approaches work in people.,” she says, adding that she hopes to open her DLBCL trial at additional institutions represented by mentors and Scholars in her LCRMP class. “I will continue to work closely with colleagues at Weill Cornell and those I meet through LRF on development of clinical studies focusing on patients with aggressive B-cell lymphomas. The LCRMP is a key step that will aid in my success on this path.”