Faculty Spotlight: Robert Hromas, M.D.

Through a patient’s eyes

Robert Hromas, M.D.

“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.

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Spring 2011

Paul Okunieff, M.D.

From the Director’s Desk

The UF Shands Cancer Center is one of fewer than 20 centers across the country and the first in Florida to debut Intrabeam, a promising type of radiation that could transform the way breast cancer is treated.

Breast cancer patient Janice Northrup (pictured with her husband, Shaun) was one of the first patients at UF to undergo the Intrabeam procedure.)

Just What the Patient Ordered

Her husband placed the newspaper by her chair, carefully positioned so the article would be the first thing she saw. When Janice Northrup glanced at it, she discovered the answer she’d been praying to find.

From left: Steven Hochwald, Stephen Grobmyer and Luke Gutwein

Too Many Surgical Breast Biopsies?

Thousands of women receive unnecessary surgical breast biopsies in Florida each year, University of Florida researchers state in an article recently published online by the American Journal of Surgery.

Cancer Center Yoga

A Place for Patients

Yoga classes at the Criser Cancer Resource Center are one of many ways the center helps patients and their families deal with the challenges presented by a cancer diagnosis or long hospital stay.

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