Two New Faculty Appointed to Columbia’s Multiple Myeloma Team

July 30, 2020

Rajshekhar Chakraborty, MD, and Shawn Sarkaria, MD, two new faculty members at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, have joined the Multiple Myeloma Center, adding their expertise in the areas of hematological malignancies and plasma cell disorders to help advance hematologic research and care. Both Drs. Chakraborty and Sarkaria have recently completed their clinical oncology fellowships prior to joining CUIMC this July.

Multiple myeloma, sometimes referred to as MM or just myeloma, is an uncommon cancer that originates from plasma cells within the bone marrow. Plasma cells normally produce antibodies that help fight infection, but when one of them becomes cancerous, it expands uncontrollably to the point that it starts to harm various organs of the body. Common presenting signs include anemia, hypercalcemia, renal insufficiency, and lytic bone lesions; however, not all patients with multiple myeloma show symptoms prior to diagnosis.

Led by Suzanne Lentzsch, MD, PhD, director of the Multiple Myeloma and Amyloidosis Program, the center’s goal is to provide the best care for patients through treatment, including access to clinical trials and new therapies. Treatment for multiple myeloma varies depending on age, extent of the disease, tolerance for medication, and patient preference. The typical course of treatment may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, novel drugs, and autologous stem cell transplantation.

“Drs. Chakraborty and Sakaria are adding to the strengths and expertise our MM team exemplifies in comprehensive patient care and in translational research,” says Dr. Lentzsch, a member of the Tumor Biology and Microenvironement research program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. “I look forward to engaging with them on future collaborations.”

Before coming to Columbia, Dr. Chakraborty, assistant professor of medicine, spent three years as a clinical researcher in plasma cell disorders at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, where he was mentored by Dr. Morie A. Gertz. Subsequently, he completed  hematology/medical oncology fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic, where he was mentored by Dr. Navneet S. Majhail. Dr. Chakraborty attended the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai-Queens Hospital Center Program for his residency, following medical school at  the University of Delhi, India. His research interests include clinical trials and outcomes research in plasma cell disorders, with an emphasis in multiple myeloma and AL amyloidosis.

Dr. Chakraborty was drawn to Columbia for its cutting-edge clinical research opportunities and its expansive expertise in the field of plasma cell disorders. He got interested in hematologic malignancies during residency as it provides a unique opportunity of solving complex medical conditions and caring for patients at their most vulnerable times. 

“Taking care of patients with cancer is extremely gratifying,” he says. “There is a unique therapeutic alliance between oncologists and their patients. I’m inspired by my patients, who trust us with life-changing decisions.”

Prior to joining the Department of Medicine as instructor of medicine, Dr. Sarkaria was a clinical oncology fellow at Columbia University, working with Mark L. Heaney, MD, PhD, and Gary K. Schwartz, MD. Dr. Sarkaria received his MD from Weill Cornell Medical College and completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of Washington.

Dr. Sarkaria’s research focuses on blood cancers and how they alter the complex cellular microenvironment within the bone marrow. Hematopoietic stem cells reside in the bone marrow and normally provide life-long regeneration of all blood cells but also have the potential to give rise to cancer. When they become cancerous, they disrupt the cellular ecosystem that supports normal bone marrow function. Dr. Sarkaria seeks to investigate the molecular and cellular changes in the microenvironment that promote cancer progression — understanding these shifts can help improve current treatments.

As a physician and a scientist, Dr. Sarkaria finds both roles fulfilling. “For me, seeing patients in the clinic is a special opportunity to help people understand their disease and to guide them through the available management options,” he says. “Research is a longer problem-solving exercise that aims to improve future care. Working in the lab and the clinic facilitates bedside-to-bench learning that I hope to translate into bench-to-beside breakthroughs.”