State of Lymphoma Research and Care: Q+A With Dr. Barbara Pro
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights infections in the body. Each year, approximately 78,000 Americans are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, making it one of the most common cancers in the U.S. Another 8,500 people will be diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, a rare cancer typically diagnosed in early adulthood (20- to 30-year-olds) and late adulthood (ages 50 years and over).
As a nationally and internationally renowned lymphoma physician-scientist, Barbara Pro, MD, has dedicated her career to better understanding the disease and uncovering possible treatments. Dr. Pro serves as the clinical director of the Lymphoma Program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) at NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP) and Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC). She leads a multi-disciplinary team of lymphoma experts dedicated to translating discoveries in the lab into new and better treatments for patients.
Widely recognized for her expertise in developing novel drug treatments for both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas, Dr. Pro has contributed to large international studies evaluating new therapies for patients with aggressive T-cell lymphomas.
Dr. Pro shares her insight into the current state of lymphoma treatments and what breakthroughs could be coming, thanks to new research.
Can you start by telling us a little more about your research?
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can affect either the T-cells or B-cells in the body. B-cells are white blood cells that fight infections and viruses in the body, whereas T-cells fight infection by boosting the immune system’s reaction to infections. My current research and clinical practice focus on B- and T-cell lymphoma.
In my research, we look to evaluate new drug treatments for the disease, that can either slow or stop its progression. At Columbia, we’re very fortunate to have a robust clinical trials program that allows us to evaluate these promising new drugs and provide our patients with the latest treatments available.
What are common risk factors of lymphoma?
Researchers have found many risk factors that increase the chance of developing lymphomas. These risk factors include age, exposure to radiation or certain chemical or drugs, race and ethnicity, family history, autoimmune diseases, immunocompromised status, and the presence of certain infections.
What's new in lymphoma care? How has treatment changed?
In the past, chemotherapy was the only option for lymphoma patients. Most patients with relapsed disease did not survive. It has been incredible to witness improvement of care and treatment for patients with lymphoma. Treatments have entered a new era with the discovery of targeted and personalized therapies. We now have a number of immunotherapy approaches, including engineered antibodies, antibody-drug conjugates, and more recently, bispecific antibodies and CAR T-cell therapies. We can treat and cure many more patients now than we did 30 years ago.
Along with cure rates, the quality of life of our patients has also improved significantly as more and more new treatments have emerged. However, there are still significant unmet needs, including access to these newest therapies and access to clinical trials for patients at all socioeconomic levels.
What does the future hold for lymphoma research?
What excites me most are the advances we’ve seen in understanding the molecular changes that can lead to lymphoma. This knowledge is helping researchers design more personalized treatments for specific lymphoma subtypes. Here at Columbia, we’re looking forward to evaluating more and more of these treatments through clinical trials.