Faculty Spotlight: Robert Hromas, M.D.
Through a patient’s eyes
“My son graduated from high school. Thanks to you, I got to see it.”
The handwritten note sent Robert Hromas, M.D., back nearly 20 years. Tears welled in his eyes, and memories in deep storage about a young patient with acute myeloid leukemia became as fresh as the morning mail.
AML springs from soft tissue inside bones called marrow that helps form white blood cells. To fight the disease, the young man had received a bone marrow transplant from his brother. That helped for more than a year. But suddenly he relapsed.
“We decided to try something that was very new and unconventional called donor lymphocyte infusion,” said Hromas, an international authority on blood cancers who became the new chair of the UF College of Medicine department of medicine on Feb. 14. “It’s routine today. We take donor cells called lymphocytes and infuse them into the patient. The goal is for these cells to attack the cancer as if it were a germ.”
The technique is only effective in about one of four patients. But for this patient, the lymphocyte infusion worked.
“One of the things that makes cancer care rewarding is connecting with people,” said Hromas, who comes to UF from the University of New Mexico, where he was the deputy director of the UNM Cancer Center — the official cancer center of New Mexico and one of only 66 National Cancer Institute-designated centers in the United States.
“Patients can receive a horrible diagnosis, but with cancer, there are lots of things we can do to help,” Hromas said. “Along the way, you develop fairly strong relationships with patients, and that’s something I really enjoy.”
— John Pastor
Blood work. An international expert on blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, Hromas is a leader in translating research into the discovery of new cancer drugs. Recently, he cloned and characterized a novel DNA repair protein that plays a crucial role in both chemotherapy resistance and in HIV integration. He has created new drugs that target this protein and is testing them for effectiveness in treating cancers resistant to chemotherapy.