Celebrating 60 years of blood cancer breakthroughs

The Ohio State University College of Medicine has been leading the way in the world of hematological malignancies, or blood cancers, for nearly six decades.

Ohio State's distinguished history in leukemia research began in 1958, when Bertha Bouroncle, MD, identified the cell responsible for hairy cell leukemia, a rare chronic form of leukemia. And we've been pioneering blood cancer innovations ever since – with a powerhouse team of faculty, researchers, clinicians and students.

Today, millions of dollars in research grants, including multiple grants from the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, support studies at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, including studies on how blood cancers develop and the creation of promising investigational treatments.

Home to an internationally renowned program focused on hematologic malignancy, cellular immune therapy and non-malignant blood disorders, our increasingly diverse, highly collaborative teams believe the next "big idea" in blood cancer will be shaped by our researchers.

Our transdisciplinary teams of hematologists, oncologists, advanced practice providers and physician assistants, researchers, nurses and other experts specialize in distinct hematologic conditions, including:

  • Acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplasia
  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
  • Bleeding and clotting disorders
  • Blood and marrow transplantation
  • Cellular therapy
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Hairy cell leukemia
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma and amyloidosis
  • Myeloproliferative disorders
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Sickle cell disease and hemoglobinopathies

“There's an emergent quality at the OSUCCC – James that directly impacts patients. The sum is greater than the individual parts and this translates directly to the high quality of care we deliver, the teaching and mentorship available and the extraordinary caliber of research conducted on a daily basis.” - Don Benson, MD, PhD Click to tweet this story


Just ask Don Benson, MD, PhD, professor-clinical of Internal Medicine, Myeloma Program director and interim director of the Division of Hematology. As an oncologist and hematologist caring for patients with multiple myeloma and amyloidosis as well as patients undergoing blood and marrow transplant, Dr. Benson sees his work as more than a career path – it's a calling.

After losing his grandfather to cancer and watching his father battle the disease, he knew he needed to be in the trenches. "I didn't choose a career path in cancer," he says. "Cancer chose me." He uses that clear sense of purpose in caring for his own patients, in the classroom with students and in his research to bring forth treatments that encourage the immune system's natural ability to kill cancer cells, prolonging and improving the overall quality of life for patients.

Dr. Benson came to Ohio State in 2003 with an unyielding commitment to a multidisciplinary appointment. "I wanted to do research, teach and provide care to patients," he explains. "I came here – and I stay here – because it's the only place I can do what I want to do and make an impact in all three missions. Each dimension fosters and empowers the others, making my experience at the OSUCCC – James truly fulfilling."

And our patients are better for having him. Dr. Benson, like many other Hematology faculty, is perennially rated in the top 10 percent of physicians in the nation for patient satisfaction.

Experimental Hematology at its Finest

There are hundreds of clinical trials underway at the OSUCCC – James, offering patients the opportunity to try the latest advances in detecting and treating hematologic malignancies.

To deliver the most effective cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment, our world-renowned experts identify and understand blood cancers and blood diseases at the genetic level, unlocking the unique genetic and molecular code of each patient's disease. This enables them to pinpoint what makes it grow or cause symptoms – then discover what stops it.

One example is in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most prevalent adult leukemia. Clinical, translational and laboratory investigators on the CLL disease team, including John Byrd, MD; Rosa Lapalombella, PhD; Natarajan Muthusamy, DVM, PhD; Kerry Rogers, MD; Jennifer Woyach, MD; as well as former team members Leslie Andritsos, MD; Farrukh Awan, MBBS; Joseph Flynn, DO; Amy Johnson, PhD; and Jeffrey Jones, MD, have worked over the past decade in the laboratory and clinic to develop a series of targeted medicines (ibrutinib, acalabrutinib) that have greatly impacted outcomes inCLL – with a 90 percent success rate. Most patients who receive this therapy do well long-term with medication – and return to their normal way of life.

With research focused on molecular and immune pharmacology in hematologic malignancies – as well as on the biology of malignant leukemia B-cell transformation – this team identifies new targets for therapeutic exploitation and translating novel targeted therapies and antibody-based treatments. Similar approaches are being applied in other blood diseases, including acute myeloid leukemia, multiple myeloma, lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia.

The Secret Behind Our Success

Moving forward as a team is key to driving the kind of breakthroughs Dr. Benson has experienced. As a leader, he's cultivated an inclusive and empowering culture at the OSUCCC – James and takes great joy in helping students, residents, fellows and junior faculty members grow to see the power of research and actively participate in the process.

When interviewing potential recruits, Dr. Benson shares two important insights about the Department of Internal Medicine, where the Division of Hematology is located:

  1. Everybody's optimistic, but nobody's satisfied. Curiosity and creativity permeate our culture. We're encouraged to innovate.
  2. The bar is set very high – and so are our expectations. In turn, you'll receive unyielding support from leadership. You're coming here to create a cancer-free world, one patient at a time, one discovery at a time.

As accomplished physicians and scientists become established and independent, they step aside and mentor the next generation to step into leadership. This not only creates fantastic opportunities for incoming faculty, but allows seasoned leaders to "pay it forward" and to branch out to try something new.

Focusing on growth opportunities keeps Ohio State's Hematology teams flexible, innovative, impactful and able to do more – with cross-functional teams across campus and in underserved communities around the world.

Growing teams and changing times bring about opportunities for enhancing diversity – a top priority for Dr. Benson. The rest of the faculty – over half of whom are women – applaud Dr. Benson for carrying the torch and driving a provocative and positive way of thinking. Lifting up new role models prevents prejudice and drives impact.

"We have so many powerful, inspirational women helping to lead our division under Dr. Benson," says John Byrd, MD, Distinguished University Professor and senior advisor for cancer experimental therapeutics. "I'm so honored to be part of this team because of the unique style of problem solving having diverse representation in leadership allows." In fact, three of the four associate directors of the Hematology division are women, and four of the six disease-group section leaders are women, as well.

"We're surrounded by amazing people – physicians, scientists, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, our entire team, every member of which believes in and contributes to the mission – that's the secret here," Dr. Benson says. "There's an emergent quality at the OSUCCC – James that directly impacts patients.

The sum is greater than the individual parts and this translates directly to the high quality of care we deliver, the teaching and mentorship available and the extraordinary caliber of research conducted on a daily basis. Our team members believe in each other, support and collaborate with one another and share a common, authentic commitment to our shared mission."

We're leading the way – as only Buckeyes do.

And you can believe our hematologists bleed scarlet and gray.

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Just in the past year, for example, Hematology faculty members have developed numerous programs that differentiate our team and our ability to provide world-class care, provide meaningful educational experiences and move research forward. Robert Baiocchi, MD, PhD, led a team to Ethiopia to set up research programs and clinical trials to support local collaborators for patients with lymphoma. Yvonne Efebera, MD, spearheaded the launch of a unique multidisciplinary clinic to conduct research and provide subspecialized care to patients with the rare disease amyloidosis. The Cancer and Aging program of Ashley Rosko, MD, garnered national attention for research in geriatric oncology and for emphasizing the unique needs and special circumstances in the care of older patients with cancer. And Payal Desai, MD, has developed a nationally recognized program for patients with sickle cell anemia, which even includes a home visiting program to partner with patients and empower them to successfully manage their condition.

Pelotonia Supports Rising Women Leaders in Hematology

Since its founding in 2008, Pelotonia has covered central Ohio with lime green arrows pointing toward one goal: ending cancer. The grass-roots bike tour has raised millions for cancer research at the OSUCCC – James. Annually the Pelotonia Fellowship Program allots $2 million to support promising Ohio State students in any discipline or level of scholarship who want to conduct cancer research under the guidance of faculty mentors at the OSUCCC – James. Here are two funded students from the Division of Hematology:

  • Tiffany Hughes, PhD, received a Pelotonia Two-Year Post-Doctoral Fellowship to create an entirely new approach to treating multiple myeloma that shows great promise in unleashing the immune system's natural killer cells to detect and kill the malignant cells. She developed a special coating to make the drug more soluble – a vital step allowing the drug to better navigate through the body and target multiple myeloma cancer cells, and has made fundamental discoveries that may lead to a new understanding of how multiple myeloma occurs.
  • Shauna Collins received a Pelotonia Undergraduate Fellowship to investigate the mechanisms of a drug called elotuzumab to combat multiple myeloma. Under the mentorship of Dr. Benson, her laboratory research contributed directly to the translational understanding of how elotuzumab works. Two large clinical trials of elotuzumab for patients with multiple myeloma then led to the drug's successful approval in the United States as a new treatment for the disease.

Many Hematology faculty and staff participate in Pelotonia every year, cycling countless miles, volunteering numerous hours and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the cause.

Through its first 10 rides, Pelotonia raised more than $173 million for cancer research.

Hematology: A Year for the Record Books

Fiscal Year 2018

Our Clinic: New Records for Annual Performance

  • 41,889 ambulatory visits
  • 4,421 inpatient admissions
  • 312 blood/marrow transplants

Proudly caring for patients from 44 states and 4 continents.

Our Faculty:

  • 45 new therapeutic clinical trials
  • 14 new faculty from world-renowned centers
  • With more than 60 faculty members, Ohio State's Division of Hematology is one of the largest in the nation

$16 million in new research funding

  • Training Grants (K-awards)
  • Research Grants (NCI R01 research grants)
  • Program Grant (NCI P01 in mantle cell lymphoma)

Expanding Cellular Therapies

  • One of first 10 centers in the nation to offer both commercially available CAR-T cell therapies
  • Burgeoning portfolio of investigational CAR-T cell therapy trials
  • CAR-T cell trials for blood cancers and solid tumors
  • Cellular therapies and collaborations ongoing in non-cancer, including infectious disease and cardiovascular disease

Celebrating Our Success

5,000+ bone marrow transplants since 1984

1st ever Joint Commission-certified sickle-cell program in the nation

Ranked #20 in Cancer by U.S. News & World Report— nationally ranked for 20 years

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